By Anna M. Tinsley

FORT WORTH -- Construction on the White Settlement Road bridge, the final bridge needed to connect downtown to the Trinity Uptown project, will start three years ahead of schedule following commitments from top officials to raise $22.3 million, eliminating a potential budget shortfall.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Texas Department of Transportation Commissioner Bill Meadows, Maribel Chavez, Fort Worth district engineer for the state transportation department, and Michael Morris, transportation director of the North Central Texas Council of Governments, met late last week with U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, in Washington where they pledged to back the project, bumping its construction from 2016 to next summer.

Now, work on all three bridges in the project will begin next year, and they are expected to take about two years to complete.

"The New Trinity River Uptown Bridges project is important for the state of Texas and we will work closely with all of the stakeholders to keep the process moving so construction can get under way as soon as possible," LaHood said.

The bridges are part of the overall Trinity Uptown project, a $909 million effort to convert the near north side of Fort Worth into a walkable neighborhood with residential areas, museums, shops and night life. The project is also geared to address issues such as flood control, economic development, environmental cleanup, ecological restoration and increased recreation on the river and its banks.

The infrastructure should be finished by 2021.

"Secretary LaHood's commitment to this historic project creates great momentum," Granger said. "TRV is a plan for Fort Worth's future and will bring 16,000 jobs and over $1 billion in economic benefits to our community."

The White Settlement Road bridge and its roundabout joins plans for bridges for Henderson and Main streets.

Officials stress that none of the new bridges will replace current bridges, but that they will extend city streets over a future bypass channel that will cut through an area north of downtown.

Work on the Henderson Street bridge is planned for early 2013; work on the White Settlement Road bridge should start in the summer; and work on the Main Street bridge would begin later in the year, said Matt Oliver, public information officer for the Trinity River Vision Authority. "This is amazing news," he said. "Anything that speeds up the schedule is all for the better."

"The White Settlement bridge is a vital piece of the plan to ensure efficient movement of traffic," Meadows said, praising the overall project as a "unique, multi-faceted plan that will improve the quality of life and livability of Fort Worth."

Morris praised officials' ability to work together.

"The Dallas-Fort Worth region has been successful at finding solutions to challenging transportation issues because local, state and federal partners are willing to work together and bring innovation to the table," he said.

The new funding sources for the White Settlement Road bridge have not been publicly identified.