InMarket: In the year 2014 there will be…

Robert Francis

Fifty years ago, upon visiting the 1964 World’s Fair, science fiction writer Isaac Asimov made several predictions for the year 2014, many of which came true. At least one: “Complete lunches and dinners, with the food semi prepared, will be stored in the freezer until ready for processing,” he completely nailed. While this one: “Indeed, the most somber speculation I can make about A.D. 2014 is that in a society of enforced leisure, the most glorious single word in the vocabulary will have become work!” by my experience anyway, he completely duffed.

However, last week the mayors of Fort Worth, Dallas and Houston for instance, announced their support for a version of one of his predictions: “There will be increasing emphasis on transportation that makes the least possible contact with the surface.” In other words, high-speed rail. The three mayors who in the past have had a history of enmity, basically said “All for one and one for all,” regarding a high-speed rail system connecting the three cities. That’s one possible outcome of this plan, which has – so far – managed to keep the powers that be in the three cities (and Arlington) in line to support the project. Behind the scenes, there has been a bit of sniping, particularly among some in Arlington and Fort Worth. Why? They see that Dallas and Houston will benefit from privately owned Texas Central Railway’s plans to connect Texas’ two largest cities, sans tax dollars. And, by inference, the line from Dallas to Arlington and Fort Worth will be financed, well, some other way; we’ll get back to you on that. “Building in the urban core will cost more than between cities,” says Steve Mattingly, a University of Texas at Arlington civil engineer who conducted a feasibility study for bringing bullet trains into Dallas-Fort Worth when speaking to the Fort Worth Business Press earlier this year.

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The study, conducted between September 2011 and August 2013, found that constructing track between “pair cities” such as Dallas and Houston would require less funding than laying track within more congested urban areas such as the stretch between Fort Worth and Dallas. “That’s why the primary focus has been getting to downtown Dallas but not Fort Worth or Arlington at this point,” Mattingly says. Wait, what’s that spot in the middle on Interstate 30 for? Stick a monorail on it. Arlington and Fort Worth are not amused by this point. But you know who may also not be amused? Odessa and Midland. New 2013 census information released last week shows that cities are the fastest-growing parts of the United States, and a majority of the metro areas showing that growth are located in or near the oil-and-gas fields.

Neighboring cities Odessa and Midland – once best known for being beaten down by the oil bust of the 1980s and as home to the rabid football fans of Friday Night Lights fame – show up as the second and third fastest-growing metro areas in the country. Sara Higgins, the Midland public information officer, has a simple explanation: oil. “They’re coming here to work,” Higgins says. Higgins nails it. Energy production is one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States, says the Census Bureau, using that data they’re so famous for. The boom in the U.S. follows the use of new technologies, such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, to tap oil and gas reserves – stuff we’re very familiar with in Fort Worth. “Mining, quarrying, and oil-and-gas extraction industries were the most rapidly growing part of our nation’s economy over the last several years,” Census Bureau Director John H. Thompson says. So here’s my prediction, Asimov-style.

Instead of stopping at the city limits of Fort Worth, the train tracks will one day head further west, toward the flat, windblown cities of Odessa and Midland. Abilene, by default, would benefit and Fort Worth residents could enjoy some football Permian Basin style when the Dallas Cowboys are in a rut. And the arts aren’t far behind. Has anyone ever visited the Globe of the Great Southwest that features an authentic replica of William Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre? Yeah, I know, it’s a bit odd. But so is the fact that the mayors of Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston actually agree on something.