It’s 7:30 p.m. on a recent Friday in far north Fort Worth, and the crush of rush-hour traffic on Interstate 35W is unwinding for the evening.
But just west of the freeway, in a bustling shopping area along North Tarrant Parkway, there is no sign of relief.
About two dozen drivers trying to exit Target, Costco, In-N-Out Burger and other shops in the new Presidio Junction shopping area are sitting practically motionless, and they will remain that way for seven to eight minutes.
Drivers can’t get out because a seemingly endless flow of cars is trying to get into the same area on Harmon Road — and the incoming traffic has overwhelmed a traffic circle at the intersection with U.S. 287, the “Decatur cutoff,” forcing the outgoing traffic to sit and wait.
Drivers say traffic in this area is already bad enough, after dozens of big-box retailers opened and several thousand houses were built on what used to be a vast, open prairie. And they fear it could get worse now that Ikea has announced plans to open a 27-acre furniture store with 900 parking spots just south of North Tarrant Parkway in 2019.
“Seriously? It’s already nuts up there,” Dan Paasch, a freelance photographer, recently wrote on his Twitter feed.
Paasch lives near Fort Worth’s medical district but does a fair amount of driving north of the city center, where Fort Worth shares borders with Haslet, Keller and Northlake.
He said backups on U.S. 287 are a regular occurrence each afternoon, and he blames the massive commercial and residential development that has enveloped the area in recent years. More than 43,000 houses have been built in the Alliance Corridor during the past 15 years, according to Residential Strategies data.
No longer prairie
Most of the area’s commercial development, especially on the west side of I-35W, is new. Since 2015, the Presidio Junction and Presidio Towne Crossing areas have brought in dozens of establishments such as Raising Cane’s, Petco and Old Navy as well as bigger retailers such as Ross, WinCo and the popular Main Event bowling and laser tag destination.
Once Ikea opens on the south side of North Tarrant Parkway, another burst of development on roughly 90 surrounding acres is likely to kick off.
More than 43,000 houses have been built in the Alliance Corridor during the past 15 years, according to Residential Strategies data.
On the east side of I-35W, the 900-acre Alliance Town Center developed by Hillwood officially opened in 2007. But most of the retailers have arrived since 2011. Some of the big names in the area include Best Buy, JCPenney, Kroger Marketplace and Cinemark XD theater.
Two hospitals, multiple hotels and a new FAA Southwest Region headquarters have also opened nearby.
“Wasn’t nuttin’ but cows up there 20 years ago,” Paasch said.
Company and Fort Worth officials say they plan to take steps to prevent congestion created by the opening of Ikea from spilling into area streets and freeways.
Specifics of the traffic plan are still preliminary, but an artist rendering of the store’s pad site shows the main entrance being a southern extension off Tehama Ridge Parkway, just south of the In-N-Out Burger and Pollo Tropical.
The rendering does not show an access point from the I-35W frontage road, although Ikea spokesman Joseph Roth said the company is open to the idea of adding frontage access.
“Our goal is to remove customers off the roads as much as possible,” he said.
Motorists say a pair of traffic circles at Harmon Road and U.S. 287 have become horribly crowded, not only during morning and afternoon rush hours but also on weekend evenings when shopping and dining activity at Presidio tends to be busiest.
The Texas Department of Transportation is willing to look at expediting long-term plans to eventually rebuild and modernize the U.S. 287/Harmon Road intersection, if the city of Fort Worth requests such an action, agency spokesman Michael Peters said.
The city plans to initiate those discussions soon, said Dennis Shingleton, a Fort Worth councilman whose district includes the Ikea development.
More than 74,000 vehicles per day use Interstate 35W in the area near North Tarrant Parkway, according to the North Central Texas Council of Governments.
Shingleton also noted that several years of massive construction on I-35W will be completed by the time Ikea opens. The Texas Department of Transportation has nearly completed construction of new main lanes and frontage roads of I-35W from Loop 820 to North Tarrant Parkway, a $244 million project.
“TxDot is going to do some work with the Harmon Road and 287 interchange. That should help,” Shingleton said. “The city is going to do Harmon Road. I expect that there’s a variety of things that will improve, certainly within the next year.”
Area resident Grant Summers suggested a U-turn lane be built so that traffic heading southbound can turn around at Basswood Boulevard and go back to the north. State officials haven’t announced plans for a southbound U-turn, although there is one for northbound traffic at that intersection.
Ikea has asked the city for incentives in exchange for opening the store along I-35W. However, it’s too early to say whether that request will include traffic improvements.
Ikea hasn’t yet filed its formal request with the city, Shingleton said.
It’s preliminary, but if those incentives involve improving the infrastructure to the Ikea site they likely will be aimed at the extension of water, electricity and other utilities to the property, rather than roads, Roth said. The Ikea site is undeveloped and lacks basic services.
Earlier this month, Robert Sturns, Fort Worth’s economic development director, said it was far too early to discuss details of Ikea’s incentive requests.
At Ikea’s store in Grand Prairie, which will open this fall, the city agreed to rebate half of the retailer’s sales taxes, up to $6 million, if the store generates at least $500,000 in tax revenues per quarter, according to the city’s economic development director, Marty Wieder.
Once the traffic web is untangled, area residents may find a lot to like about having an Ikea store in their neighborhood.
The company, which sells its own brands of furniture, lighting and other housewares, has 43 stores in the United States and 390 locations worldwide.
At a typical Ikea, once visitors enter the building, they are led along a winding pathway through professionally designed showrooms for everything from living room and dining furniture to kitchen items and bedroom items.
For customers with young children, there is even a play area. And there is a restaurant area that serves not only Swedish meatballs, but also chicken and veggie meatballs as well as salmon and many other traditional American foods.
Construction on the Fort Worth store is expected to begin in spring 2018. When it opens in summer 2019, it will employ more than 250 workers, Roth said.
North Texas will be just the third metropolitan area in the U.S. to have three Ikea stores, joining greater New York and Los Angeles.
“We’re very bullish on North Texas,” Roth said.
The Grand Prairie store, being built at the northeast corner of Interstate 20 and Texas 161, will serve the Arlington, Mansfield and Midlothian areas, as well as east Fort Worth and south Dallas County.
Construction on the Grand Prairie store is running ahead of schedule. Its steel frame is already in place, and this week workers began installing composite metal walls painted in that famous, royal-looking color that the company refers to as “Ikea blue.”
The Grand Prairie store, like the one in Fort Worth, will be about 289,000 square feet — larger than a typical Wal-Mart Supercenter.
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.