Fort Worth

Gridlock: Is far west Fort Worth the next bottleneck?

West Fort Worth is booming. Will traffic be a problem?

Developments like Walsh Ranch and Morningstar are fueling grown in west Fort Worth. Traffic is expected to increase by 40 percent over the next 20 years along Interstate 20 just west of the merge with Interstate 30.
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Developments like Walsh Ranch and Morningstar are fueling grown in west Fort Worth. Traffic is expected to increase by 40 percent over the next 20 years along Interstate 20 just west of the merge with Interstate 30.

Every afternoon, motorists get stuck on Interstates 20 and 30 as they head toward far far west Fort Worth, Aledo and Weatherford.

With booming developments like Walsh and Morningstar, the number of people traveling back and forth each day is about to soar: Traffic is expected to increase by 40 percent over the next 20 years along Interstate 20 just west of the merge with Interstate 30.

Will the area see traffic jams like the ones that have plagued far north Fort Worth during the rapid development along the Alliance corridor? Dallas-Fort Worth already has some of the longest commutes in the country, with the average in Tarrant County at 26.1 minutes and the typical one in Parker County at 30.1, according to Data USA.

The average speed at 5 p.m. along Interstate 30 from downtown to the I-20 merge has fallen from 50 mph in 2016 to 44 mph, increasing travel time by two minutes along that stretch, according to Inrix, a Kirkland, Wash., company that analyzes traffic data. Average 5 p.m. speeds on Interstate 20 from I-35W to Weatherford have fallen from 63 mph to 54 mph.

More than half of Parker County workers commute to Tarrant County each day.

“There’s not a doubt in my mind that it’s going to get worse,” said Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley. “Their north side growth was much more dramatic but with what they’re proposing at Walsh in far west Fort Worth and at other developments in Parker County, we’re going to face challenges.”

The master-planned community of Walsh stretches over 11 square miles between I-20 and I-30 and is projected to be home to as many as 50,000 people. Just down the road is Morningstar, a 737-acre development that will eventually include 2,200 single family homes.

Since 2010, the Dallas-Fort Worth region has grown by more than 1 million and is now home to 7.5 million people. Fort Worth’s population is projected to climb from 850,000 to 1.5 million by 2040.

To Whitley, coping with that massive growth is complicated by the political climate in Austin, where proposed legislation would limit how much money local governments can raise through property taxes.

If lawmakers cap property tax revenue increases between 2.5 percent and 3.5 percent — there are two versions of the legislation — Whitley said it will be harder for local entities to build new thoroughfares or widen existing ones.

“It’s absolutely a problem,” Whitley said. “We have the Legislature not addressing infrastructure and limiting our ability to do public-private partnerships.”

But there are state-funded projects on the books and some options available for cities like Fort Worth.

Michael Morris, the director of transportation for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, said the Walsh bridge over Interstate 30 was key to opening up far west Fort Worth. It allows north-south access to the highway, and will eventually serve as a link to Interstate 20.

More projects are on the way. Construction could start in 2022 to add lanes to I-30 and I-20, Morris said. But he acknowledged that more arterial streets will be needed to help with the flow in and out of western Tarrant County.

New street development is complicated by natural gas wells dotting undeveloped land, which will make it harder to find a clear path for roads.

“There are thoroughfare streets that have to be built,” Morris said. “We’re going to have transportation issues as people go back and forth to their jobs in Tarrant County.”.

Fort Worth’s leaders feel they are in far better shape on the city’s west side than they were when north Fort Worth started booming more than two decades ago.

The city’s 2016 master thoroughfare plan spells out where new streets could go. Now the city requires developers to help pay for and build streets, said Randle Harwood, the city’s planning and development director.

“I think it will evolve more smoothly than it did in far north Fort Worth,” Harwood said. “I also think we aren’t as likely to grow as fast to the west as we did to the north.”

Population in neighboring Parker County is expected to grow from 134,000 in 2018 to 207,000 in 2045, according to the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

A majority are expected to keep commuting to Tarrant County for work. There are 68,000 jobs in Parker County but that is expected to reach only 87,000 by 2045.

“It’s all about where the jobs are,” said Parker County Judge Pat Deen, who hopes to create more of them in Parker County.

Traffic congestion is already reaching a boiling point in some parts of Parker County. And some of it is to the west of Aledo and the Walsh and Morningstar developments.

“I think it’s happening much quicker than people are realizing,” Deen said. “If you’re going eastbound from Weatherford in the morning or westbound from Fort Worth in the evening, it’s a massive traffic jam each day.”

Adding lanes to I-30 cannot wait, he said.

“Quite honestly, we needed that lane 10 years ago,” Deen said.

In Fort Worth, city councilman Brian Byrd is more optimistic. His district includes Walsh and much of far west Fort Worth.

“I think we’re on the right track with I-30 expansion,” Byrd said. “It would be great if it was here now but they anticipate it being a workable solution..”

Byrd also doesn’t see west Fort Worth’s situation matching what occurred in north Fort Worth.

“I think everyone is concerned because they see the growth coming,” Byrd said. “But there’s more connectivity. There’s more routes that make it dissimilar to the Alliance situation. There’s only one way to get up to Alliance — I-35W — we have two major interstates.”

Traffic projects

West Loop 820 to Linkcrest Drive. Widening from two to three lanes, construction of frontage roads and upgrades to Spur 580/I-30 interchange. Estimated start: 2022 or later.

Project improvements under study along Interstate 30 include expanding the interstate from three to four lanes and reconstructing the frontage roads. Estimated start: 2025 or later.

I-20 from FM 1187/FM 3325 to Markum Ranch Road and I-30 from I-20 to Linkcrest Drive. Improvements to interchanges, ramps, frontage roads, as well as sidewalks and bicycle lanes. Estimated start: 2022 or later.

Staff writer Luke Ranker contributed to this report.
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