Dallas oilman W. Herbert Hunt is building a bridge.
So far his project hasn’t attracted nearly as much attention as the one named for his late sister, Margaret Hunt Hill.
But just like that Dallas landmark, Hunt’s project — on U.S. Highway 80 east of Dallas — is expected to spur development in a large area.
Forney officials anticipate that construction of the six-lane bridge over U.S. 80 and railroad tracks will open up more than 2,200 acres on the town’s east side for development.
Hunt’s family investment group is paying more than half the cost of the $20 million span, which will extend the new Gateway Boulevard to more than 1,400 acres the group owns.
“When we first acquired the property there nine years ago, there wasn’t any thought of a bridge,” Hunt said. “It was just a good tract of land.”
But first you have to get to it. Along with the highway, there’s a busy Union Pacific rail line to cross before accessing the area.
“I’ve been told there are 26 trains a day going down those tracks,” Hunt said. “Forney has been a divided city, straddling U.S. 80 as well as the railroad.
“There has been no easy means of getting from one side to the other,” he said.
That’s changing with construction of the new bridge and 2.2 miles of roadway.
“It’s going to open up development on the east side of Forney and give us a new traffic loop,” said Kim Buttram, Forney’s director of economic development.
Along with the money put in by Petro-Hunt LLC, the city is spending $3 million, and more funding is coming from regional transportation sources.
“Mr. Hunt fronted the money, but his company will be paid back over time as property values increase over there,” Buttram said. “It’s a big commitment upfront.”
The new bridge and roadway should be done by the fall of 2013, she said.
And by then Hunt hopes to have the first of several hundred apartments planned for his Meadow Ridge Farm development ready for tenants.
“We are in the process of doing some detailed site plans,” he said. “It will probably be 600 apartment units built in two 300-unit phases.”
Meadow Ridge Farm also has land earmarked for retail, commercial and more housing.
Work has already started on an 80-unit seniors housing project.
The Hunt family also owns the Irish Ridge development site in Forney on the south side of U.S. 80.
While Hunt is best known for his oil and gas acumen, he and his family for decades have been major players in the North Texas real estate market.
“When you look at the oil and gas business, you are dealing with titles all the time and land to drill on,” Hunt said. “It’s akin to the real estate business, and we have gone back and forth.
“We’ve been involved in development in Plano and Richardson and other places.”
Hunt and his family also built the 50-story Thanksgiving Tower in downtown Dallas along with other buildings over the years.