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As Tarrant population surges, transportation experts discuss economic impact of region’s next steps

Attendees listen to panelists during a session at the Tarrant Transportation Summit, Feb. 9 at the Hurst Conference Center.
Sandra Sadek
Fort Worth Report
Attendees listen to panelists during a session at the Tarrant Transportation Summit, Feb. 9 at the Hurst Conference Center.

Accelerated interest in Tarrant County’s transportation needs kept discussions moving during a summit on Feb. 9.

Solid transportation infrastructure that responds to exponential population growth has never been more important, and both the private and public sectors came together to discuss it during the 14th annual Tarrant Transportation Summit at the Hurst Conference Center.

In four sessions, panelists shared news of projects in the works and discussed future plans to improve mobility and bring in economic opportunities.

Long-range planning in Fort Worth

As Fort Worth inches closer to a million residents, city staff and business partners are looking at different ways to move people and goods efficiently across the community while attracting new job opportunities that bring in jobs.

Kelly Porter, assistant director for the city’s transportation and public works department, shared that Fort Worth is working on its first master transportation plan, which will look at long-range infrastructure projects over the next 25 years.

The idea is to take all of Fort Worth’s transportation modes and “put it into a long-range planning program that’s tied back to our region and city’s substantial growth, and shaping a vision for the city going forward,” Porter said.

Having the plan in place will also help the city be competitive when it comes to seeking out state and federal funding to meet these needs.

The Stockyards is one of the areas that has seen massive growth since Majestic Realty Co. acquired the Stockyards Hotel and helped breathe new life into the location.

Craig Cavileer, executive vice president of Majestic Realty Co. said since opening Hotel Drover three years ago, the Stockyards’ GDP rose from $175 million to almost $400 million. The Stockyards is now welcoming around 9.3 million annual visitors, he said.

“We’re responsible for experience — we’re not responsible for traffic — but we need to be a partner in that,” Cavileer said. “We’ve got another $700 (million) to $800 million to invest in the Stockyards so we want to be careful how we do that and be in lockstep with it as the community grows from us to downtown. … It is an ecosystem and we’re a big part of that.”

Out southwest, Walsh and Veale Ranches have opened up new economic possibilities. Both sites are among the last remaining vacant lots of land in the city for major projects.

“It’s hard to tell what’s happening, but it’s coming,” said Ryan Dickerson, CEO of the Walsh Companies. “Major projects are coming online that are really going to change the fabric of Fort Worth and the west side.”

Despite losing out on the Rivian deal back in 2021, Dickerson said he remains optimistic about the location’s potential.

“What that really did for us, both internally with the Walsh family as well as with all our partners, is kind of verify what we believed, that this is the spot for economic development,” he said.

As Fort Worth continues to grow, the city’s economic development team will have to pick the projects that best fit the city’s vision, said Robert Allen, president and CEO of the Fort Worth Economic Development Partnership.

“I have said ‘No’ a lot to some projects in the first 9 to 10 months that I’ve been here because it is such a unique place. You’ve got to be thoughtful about making sure that what you bring here and what you want to put into Fort Worth, will be there long after I’m gone,” Allen said.

Tackling the population surge north and west

Northwest Tarrant County and its western neighbor, Parker County, are hot spots for new projects. The northwest part of the county is home to about 600,000 residents, and Parker County is the sixth fastest growing county in the country.

Growth has been so overwhelming that Parker County took a $130 million, 32-project transportation bond to voters in November 2023. It included funding for work on I-20 as well as local roads throughout the city of Weatherford and Parker County.

“We were slightly behind the curve,” Parker County Judge Pat Deen said. “We’ve got to set the precedent now, working together and collaborating together in getting buy-in in every one of the cities because we’re all in this together. This isn’t just a county issue.”

According to Deen, around 60% of the city’s workforce travels east toward Fort Worth and beyond for jobs — a tremendous strain on Weatherford’s economy as well as the roads in Tarrant County.

That has to stop, he said.

In northwest Tarrant County, the infrastructure of what was once a rural part of the county has not always kept pace with the rapid development of that area.

“Northwest Tarrant County is kind of the last bastion of a rural portion of a major county in the nation,” said Dillon Maroney, executive administrator of operations for Tarrant County Precinct 4.

In response to the needs of the area, the county has been working with TxDOT to bring projects that allow better traffic flow while improving overall safety on the roads.

That includes a $17 million federal grant to construct a four-lane overpass at the railroad track crossings on Bonds Ranch Road, long a point of frustration for residents.

The county also allocated $40 million from its 2021 transportation bond toward projects in that region.

“It’s really not up to us. The developers are going to develop,” Maroney said. “It’s whether or not we are going to be at the table to help support (that growth), to allow people to get to and from these houses … in our precinct.”

Infrastructure opens up economic opportunities. Weatherford Mayor Paul Paschall said that several employers, including Costco and H-E-B., expressed interest in expanding in the city shortly after the 2023 bond was approved.

“Along with mobility and growth and job creation, the roads are key,” Paschall said.

Diversifying east Tarrant County’s economy and mobility options

A decade ago, Arlington had MAX Bus, a shuttle service connecting the TRE Station to downtown. It ended in 2017 after failing to meet expected ridership levels, said Trey Yelverton, city manager for Arlington.

However, that doesn’t mean the city isn’t investing in transportation anymore, he said.

“If we’re not in the transportation business, how come we’re spending $20 million a year on transportation,” Yelverton said.

In Arlington and east Tarrant County, transportation instead refers to I-30 and new tech-driven options.

The new I-30 interchanges at SH 360 have opened up development opportunities for the area, including 80 acres in the Cooper area, Yelverton said.

The expansion of I-30 over the past decade has allowed the development of Arlington’s Entertainment District, turning the former surface parking lots into a major destination and revenue generator for the city.

The upcoming $410 million Loews Hotel is slated to open Feb. 13. And the area is now exploring residential projects in the district, said Rob Matwick, executive vice president of business operations for the Texas Rangers Baseball Club.

“It really just goes to show what happens when you have, in our case, the right ownership at the helm, the right partners on the public side,” Matwick said.

In the meantime, regional planners have been exploring innovative ways to alleviate congestion on I-30 with a high-speed rail line connecting Fort Worth and Dallas, and eventually to Houston.

“High-speed rail has the potential to revolutionize the way we think about travel in the United States,” said Dan Lamers, senior program manager for transportation planning at the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

With the construction of this new rail line, Lamers said it will bring opportunities to develop new train stations unlike anything seen before in the country.

“When I say train station, I don’t mean something you would see at TEXRail or Trinity Railway Express or even DART,” Lamers said. “We’re talking massive. We’re talking airport terminal-type development at a train station.”

Northeast Tarrant’s managed lanes

I-35W has earned a reputation for always being under construction. However, it has played an important role in connecting Fort Worth to Alliance and its estimated $120 billion in total economic impact over the last 35 years.

“Without the managed lanes, without 3C— the latest connection — we really would have been two distinct, separate areas,” said former Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price. “Without the managed lanes, you’d be sitting in gridlock.”

While the toll lanes on I-35W were considered a milestone in addressing the growth surrounding the Alliance area, it may not have been enough.

At the time of the start of the toll lane construction, the contract between North Tarrant Express and TxDOT said once traffic levels reached a certain point, the NTE would be required to add capacity.

The traffic surge came eight years ahead of schedule, said Robert Hinkle, director of corporate affairs for NTE.

As a result, an additional general purpose lane will be added to I-820 in each direction between SH 121/183 and I-35W as well as a managed lane in each direction along SH 183 between Industrial Boulevard and I-820.

Construction is expected to be finished by 2027. The $414 million cost of the project will be paid for with the money collected from NTE’s other tolls.

Alongside more highway lanes has been the investment in rail infrastructure over the last few years, including the TEXRail line all the way to the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.

“You didn’t need to be very bright to realize that if we didn’t get to the airport with rail, we were going to be left behind,” Price said.

Editor’s note: This story was updated Feb. 12 to correct the investment left for the Stockyards.

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here

Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at or @ssadek19. 

This article first appeared on Fort Worth Report and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.