Tarrant County is one of the fastest growing counties in the United States. Within the next 30 years, our population is expected to double to 3.6 million, potentially making Tarrant County the largest county in the Metroplex.
Because of this growth, our transportation needs will increase along with numerous other infrastructure demands. Congestion and lack of mobility will continue to be a major quality of life issue with our citizens if we fail to conduct proper transportation planning now.
The North Central Texas Council of Government (NCTCOG) Regional Transportation Council (RTC), allocates 31 percent of the Federal and State Transportation funding to the Western Region (Tarrant, Johnson, Parker, Wise and Hood counties) with 69 percent going to the Eastern Region (Dallas, Denton, Collin, Rockwall, Hunt, Ellis and Kaufman counties).
This funding division may change over time, but it will always favor the Eastern Region. Because of this funding imbalance, it becomes even more important for Tarrant County to be prepared, informed and ready to react whenever any funding becomes available.
Funds typically will be allocated to projects that have been planned and engineered along with environmental and right-of-way (ROW) issues already in place or identified. This strategic plan will enable Tarrant County to be in a position to enhance our funding for the future.
Consider that the DFW Connector was a $1 billion project, and TxDOT only had $650 million for the project. In 2009, Federal Stimulus funds of $250 million (ARRA Funds) became available and were allocated to the DFW Connector because ROW, environmental and preliminary engineering were in place or “shovel ready.”
This project started in 2010 and was completed in 2013, over a year earlier than scheduled.
Another example is the widening of State Highway 26 (Grapevine Highway). The city of Grapevine and Tarrant County were scheduled to fund this $12.5 million project with bond funds from the 2006 Tarrant County Bond election. Engineering, ROW and environmental studies were completed, but the project had not started. When $12.5 million in ARRA funds became available, they were awarded to build this project because it was “shovel ready.” Grapevine and Tarrant County were able to reallocate their funds for other projects in the area.
These are just two examples of why planning is so important in transportation. If we had not been ready, this funding would have gone to other projects outside Tarrant County.
Those that are prepared, receive the funding. Part of being prepared includes having transportation professionals working with each commissioner and our Tarrant County Transportation Department.
A long-range transportation strategic plan must also be multimodal. Tarrant County’s future involves so much more than just moving people and goods by automobile. It must also include transit, rail, aviation, freight and hike-and-bike trails.
This plan will enable Tarrant County, along with its partner cities and organizations, to identify, define, and prioritize projects and funding, as well as educate legislators, business leaders, community leaders, and constituents regarding their importance.
Projects will need to be identified within the county through consulting with TxDOT, NCTCOG-RTC and master thoroughfare plans from our partner cities. All major projects will need to be prioritized according to their importance to the overall mobility and connectivity to the regional plan. Then we can create a timeframe along with funding opportunities.
Why does Tarrant County need to take the lead role in this initiative? Because as a commissioners court, we have an obligation and responsibility to oversee the viability and wellbeing of the entire county.
The court is the only entity that can look at the needs for our entire county and have the authority to make decisions to improve the lives of our citizens. Because of our rapid growth and vibrant economy, Tarrant County must lead the way with long-range planning and resources to provide the infrastructure needed to compete in the future.
I invite you to hear more about transportation funding along with updates on the DFW Connector, North Tarrant Express and I-35W projects at the Fifth Annual Northeast Tarrant Transportation Summit on Feb. 21, at the Hurst Conference Center, between 8:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
The Summit provides a forum for both residents and businesses to learn more about these major mobility-improving projects, their plans and how they will affect economic development, daily commutes and personal quality of life.
This year’s event will include three morning seminars plus a luncheon featuring Congressman Roger Williams.
Gary Fickes is the Precinct 3 Commissioner for Tarrant County and is chairman of the board for the Tarrant Regional Transportation Coalition.