Most city leaders agree that Fort Worth was not prepared for the rapid growth of the city’s far north side beginning in the early 2000s.
The area’s population jumped from about 98,000 in 2000 to 210,000 in 2010 — a 114 percent increase. The population boom created some of the worst traffic snarls in Texas, lengthened police response times north of Loop 820 and frustrated residents, who lack community services like ball fields and community centers.
So when Councilman W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman hears developers talk about adding more than 18,000 rooftops to Walsh Ranch to the west and other expected development, he worries about the lack of roads.
“I think, unfortunately, we are probably late to the game,” Zimmerman said. “If you thought the north traffic jams were bad, it is going to be much worse on the west side, because we don’t have any parallel arterials to I-20 and I-30. We are way behind the power curve.”
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Nearly 15 years after the growth took off in the far north, the city is just now building a community park and has yet to announce the location and funding sources for a north police patrol division. The state’s expansion of Interstate 35W won’t be complete until 2018.
“The issue we have got is money. Funding is going to be critical. Just in the city of Fort Worth we have over $1 billion in transportation needs,” said Zimmerman, who has been pushing city and county officials to address the accelerated growth.
Solutions aren’t easy to find, said Randle Harwood, director of planning and development.
At the same time Fort Worth is growing at the edges, the inner city is being revitalized and aging infrastructure needs to be replaced.
“We have an enormous capacity to grow, both in our periphery — and I think we are getting to the outer boundaries there of where it makes sense to go — and then in the core. There is so much more we can do to redevelop what we already have,” Harwood said.
Population expected to top 1 million
Walsh Ranch, expected to be the largest master-planned community in the United States at 7,275 acres, is planning for about 48,540 people in the residential portion of the development, according to a March concept plan submitted to the city.
The plan also calls for developing 451 acres for multiple use, 343 acres of retail and 171 acres for business, and creating two middle schools and eight elementary schools.
Near Walsh Ranch are Beggs Ranch, the Crestview Boswell development and Dean Ranch, all in conceptual phases of design. Farther west, developers have filed preliminary plats for the 734-acre MorningStar Ranch, Harwood said.
The area west of Loop 820 is expected to grow by more than 117,000 residents by 2040, according to population projections by the North Central Texas Council of Governments.
Farther south, vacant land around the new Chisholm Trail Parkway is expected to draw more than 76,000 to the area by 2040, according to the same projections.
The central city is expected to attract new residents, especially as the city funnels money into urban villages such as the trendy West Seventh corridor and the near south side.
In all, Fort Worth’s population is expected to jump from 792,727 in 2014 to 1.199 million in 2040.
“There is an enormous amount of growth in coming years,” Harwood said. “It is a continuing balancing act. There will be times when the periphery is growing rapidly, there will be times the core is growing rapidly, and there will be times they are growing rapidly together, which is what is happening right now.”
The city is looking at projected development in the west and south in its Master Thoroughfare Plan, which is being updated to reflect expected transit needs.
Funding for a stronger east-west arterial network is not in the budget. East-west connectors are often more expensive and difficult to build, Harwood said, because they often have to cross natural barriers, such as rivers, and man-made barriers, such as railroad tracks.
“I think there is more transit connectivity that we need, more road connectivity we need, and all of those things are challenges for the future,” Harwood said.
Zimmerman, Councilmen Jungus Jordan and Dennis Shingleton, and Tarrant and Parker county officials are trying to coordinate on transit solutions.
“We are starting to do the things we need to do; we are just way behind the need,” Zimmerman said.
The city learned valuable lessons from growth in the north, Harwood said.
For example, the City Council voted in 2008 to create a transportation impact fee, charged for each house in a new development to help pay for roads. The council voted to increase the fee in 2013, though critics say the amount is still not enough to keep pace with development.
In light of the growth and the need for parks in the far north, the council approved a change in the park dedication policy in 2009. Though the city has an aggressive park dedication policy, specific to the differing park needs inside and outside Loop 820, the change made it possible to pool park fees within a park planning district to buy large tracts of land.
Before, community park fees were dedicated to specific developments but did not bring in enough money to build large community parks. The change made it possible for Fort Worth to buy enough land to create the Northwest Community Park, said Richard Zavala, director of parks and community services.
The city does not have a fee system on new developments to help pay for other park services such as community centers or ball fields, Zavala said. Those needs are normally addressed through bond programs.
“Are we behind? We are always behind,” Harwood said. “You are never going to have everything you want. The question is, Will we have a network that functions effectively enough to adequately move people around the city? I think we are not behind in that regard.
“Will we ever be able to move people around the city optimally? I think there are places that will occur,” he said