An old icon located in the city of Dallas will soon be no more. One can argue that the significant growth and development of old Dallas can be directly attributed to the introduction of this relic: the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad.
In its heyday, the Santa Fe Railway covered 12 states, with most of its lines running from the midwestern and southwestern portions of the United States. The days of its famed passenger trains such as the Super Chief, the El Capitan, the Valley Flyer, and the Texas Chief set the standard for luxury rail travel until around1971, when Amtrak took over the passenger service.
An integral part of the overall system that ran through Dallas was the AT&SF Bridge, which today spans the Dallas Floodway. The stretch of railroad was in operation a few years before the levee system was built around 1935. Its freight revenues came principally from intermodal traffic, farm and food products, chemicals, motor vehicles and parts, and industrial raw materials.
“This bridge demolition project is the first of several projects in the area sequenced to improve flood risk management,” said Col. Kenneth N. Reed, the Fort Worth District commander.
“The beginning of the first construction project in the Dallas Levee Systems marks a major milestone and will address long awaited critical flood risk management for residents and businesses along the Trinity River. I will support the project because it protects our community and provides a catalyst improved quality of life opportunities,” said Councilmember Carolyn King Arnold, District 4. “The City of Dallas will continue to support the US Army Corps of Engineers to help advance these critical flood control projects.”
The historic railroad bridge is located at the downstream end of the Dallas Floodway Project. The modification of the abandoned AT&SF Railroad Bridge was identified as a potential measure due to its impact to the Standard Project Flood water surface profile, its location at the downstream end of the Dallas Floodway Project, and the fact that the bridge is no longer needed for rail traffic.
“The Corps and the City have been working hard together to find ways to reduce the risk of flooding using cost-effective solutions that can be executed in a timely manner,” said Dallas Floodway Program Manager, Traci Fambrough.
In compliance with federal historic preservation laws and regulations, the Corps mitigated the loss of this historic structure through documentation of the resource. Prior to demolition, a Corps cultural resource technical specialist took archival photographic documentation that will be made available to area archives so that future generations will have access to information on the trestle.
The wood trestles on the bridge have approximately 14-foot spacing, instead of the typical 50-foot spacing on most bridge designs. During flood events and heavy rains, debris is often trapped within the trestle segments. It is for this reason that keeping remnants of the bridge intact is not an option.
While the City owns most of the land associated with the Dallas Floodway System including Dallas Floodway and Dallas Floodway Extension; the Corps regulates these lands to ensure the primary purpose of flood risk management is maintained. For lands the City does not own; the Corps must gain rights of entry if it needs to make modifications or repairs.
The Dallas Floodway Extension was authorized in 1965 as part of the partnership with the Corps and its local sponsor, the City of Dallas. Dallas maintained a floodway condition and began working with the Corps on the Dallas Floodway Extension study to provide additional flood protection in the early 1990s.
Major flooding in the late 1980s through the early 1990s resulted in the City building the Rochester Levee and making major improvements to the Central Wastewater Treatment Levee ahead of the Corps’ study completion.
The Water Resources Development Act of 1996 added these levees to the federal levee system and allows the City to receive credit towards its cost share responsibility for the remaining Dallas Floodway improvements.
Within this partnership, the City of Dallas and the Corps review all design and construction activities for the project to ensure they meet the needs of the City, while remaining within scope and budget requirements on the federal level.
One of the next steps will be the design and construction of the Lamar and Cadillac Heights levees. However, gaining rights of entry is a main issue with moving these projects forward.
“We are working with the City to help get the rights of entry necessary to design the levee. The alignment cannot be finalized until the Corps is able to complete geotechnical investigations within the area to determine the best design for the levees,” said Fambrough.
The 2018 Bi-Partisan Budget Act that provided the appropriation for these flood risk management projects encourages the Corps and its partners to complete construction on an expedited schedule.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Southwestern Division has established a $5.2 billion Hurricane Damage Reconstruction and Risk Reduction Program. The program comprises 40 projects across three states (Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Texas) and will provide critical, enhanced flood risk reduction measures to the region. All work in the program is expected to be complete by 2027.
Demolition on the bridge began in December 2020 and is almost finished with just minor items remaining. The completion of this portion of the flood risk reduction project also marks the symbolic end to an old relic responsible for the initial trust that propelled the nation’s nineth largest city into one of the more diverse and vibrant municipalities within the United States.