Transportation, broadband could get boost in underserved areas of Fort Worth

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A pilot project that would link transportation funding and broadband expansion in underserved areas could have a major impact on developments in south and southeast Fort Worth. 

Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, unveiled the plan while speaking at the Tarrant Transportation Summit held at the Hurst Conference Center on Feb. 10.

The proposal would expand broadband services to areas that currently have low broadband access. He would propose funding for the broadband expansion in two separate projects –  improvements to Rosedale and Lancaster planned in Fort Worth, Morris said.

The project was on the Regional Transportation Committee meeting agenda for Feb. 10, but it has been postponed to a later date, according to a North Texas Council of Goverment’s spokesman. 

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“We’ve still got some due diligence to do,” Morris said. 

The pilot project calls for spending $3 million for the “design and implementation of equal access to the internet as a travel demand management tool.”  The project would be part of a planned retrofit of Rosedale Street and planned improvements to Lancaster Avenue. 

“I think we have a lot of excitement with, maybe, south and southeast Fort Worth leading the technology revolution in broadband as a transportation mode,” Morris said. 

The link to transportation funding is that improved internet access can reduce the numbers of vehicles on the roadway, Morris said. 

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“If you can cut down on the number of vehicles on the road, particularly at peak times, we’ll be improving transportation as a whole,” he said. 

Morris said the idea is part of his concept of getting the most good out of large public projects.

“So, how do we get equal access to the internet for everyone? How do we eliminate food deserts? How do we have everyone be able to get a job in this world of COVID-19 because you interview over a computer,” he said. “So, we are going to be judged not by just the network of the three or four or five, seven really cool projects we’re going to build, that’s the easy part. It’s the effectiveness of what we do.”

Morris also needs to do some outreach with local officials and other stakeholders on the plan.

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“We need to get the word out,” he said. 

Former Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price was at the event and said she likes the idea. 

“The whole goal is to move people where they need to go: medical care, groceries, school, whatever. If you can use the wireless technology, which is the backbone of that, then let’s call it a necessity and get there,” she said. 

Morris said there may need to be some tweaks to some federal legislation to move forward, but said both the federal and state governments are committed to expanding broadband. 

Also speaking at the conference was Texas State Comptroller Glenn Hegar, who last year formed a Broadband Development Office that provides grants, loans and other financial incentives for companies expanding internet services to underserved areas. 

Leaders used to think that better broadband access was just about helping rural communities, he said.

“What we’ve learned in the last few years is that it is not just about economic development in rural communities,” he said. “What we’ve learned is that it is about telemedicine, public education, higher education and about your employees and workers have the capabilities to continue to engage.” 

In another pilot project involving technology, Morris said the agency is looking at studying the electrifying roadways that can wirelessly charge electric vehicles. He said they are considering a stretch of State Highway 360 for the project.

Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at bob.francis@fortworthreport.org. 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.

This article was originally published by Fort Worth Report.

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