Just 20 miles from downtown Fort Worth, two-lane roads are a common sight. They’re nestled between tight rows of newly built suburban homes, large parcels of land and overturned dirt.
Every corner has homes in various states of construction — and more are popping up every day.
Areas outside of Interstate 820 are the only place left where large, new neighborhoods can be built in Fort Worth, a city nearing 1 million residents.
This population boom and sprawling development have brought a new set of challenges for the city. Infrastructure needs from all parts of Fort Worth, especially in the budding suburbs outside of the loop, are adding pressure. City leaders also must deal with how to engage and meet the needs of residents who are far removed from the heart of Fort Worth.
Gary Hogan has seen these issues up close over the past three decades. Hogan lives in far west Fort Worth. He is the president of the Chapel Creek Neighborhood Association, which he started in 1998 with 200 homeowners.
Hogan moved to west Fort Worth in 1992. Abundant cattle fields were all residents could see. Today, homes have replaced pastures. The Chapel Creek Neighborhood Association now has nearly 900 homeowners participating.
“This area, it’s become the last frontier of Fort Worth growth,” Hogan said.
Breaking away from urban high-rises and compact mixed-use buildings, the vast empty lots of land reminiscent of the countryside make it hard to believe they are just 20 miles from Fort Worth’s urban core.
One example of this is Walsh, a master-planned development on Fort Worth’s western edge nestled among cattle ranches and country roads. So far, 1,700 out of 7,200 acres of planned homes are in development.
Walsh is one of the many examples of new housing development popping up farther and farther away from the urban core to meet the increasing demand for housing.
“The city is getting pretty full. There are some developments in the city, but it’s probably a lot easier right now to acquire land outside of the city,” Shannon Ashkinos, president of the Greater Fort Worth Association of Realtors, said. “That’s where the developers are going because they can’t build the big communities that they kind of foresee inside of the city.”
Housing inventory remained at a record-low in January, according to the real estate association. There were fewer than 800 active listings in the city of Fort Worth at that time and just over 1,500 active listings in Tarrant County. The report also shows that, on average, homes for sale were only on the market for about 30 days that month.
Sherry Huckaby moved to the far northwest Fort Worth area four years ago. She now lives along Bond Ranch Road and works in Westlake. Getting to work can take between one hour and an hour and a half because of traffic near Interstate 35W, she said.
“The biggest problems we have is just that, other than Highway 287, all the roads that lead to Highway 287 are just two-lane farm roads, which were never meant for this type of population,” Huckaby said. “It was tight enough four years ago. Now, it’s just impossible.”
Planning ahead or catching up?
This rapid growth of neighborhoods and subdivisions outside of I-820 has outpaced the city’s ability to maintain and update infrastructure to support more cars and more people.
In a 2021 citywide community survey, maintenance of streets and traffic flow were among the top concerns of Fort Worth residents.
The city of Fort Worth’s 2021 survey reported that only 51% of respondents said they were satisfied with the maintenance of city streets and facilities and 56% were satisfied with the flow of traffic.
Rusty Fuller, president of the North Fort Worth Alliance, has been living in far northwest Fort Worth since 2003 and started becoming involved in his neighborhood issues in 2005.
“Outside the loop, we just can’t keep up with the roads,” Fuller said. “That is the biggest issue that we deal with on a day-to-day basis, especially in North Fort Worth Alliance.”
Commuting concerns have been at the forefront of residential concerns in far northwest Fort Worth. The Texas Department of Transportation is investing over $1.6 billion to rebuild parts of I-35W to accommodate increased traffic. The project, which started in 2013 and is divided into two phases, is anticipated to be completed in 2023.
The city of Fort Worth is hoping to pass a bond in May that includes over $369 million for streets and pedestrian mobility infrastructure.
“The Northwest Fort Worth Community Alliance (now has) 3,000 home developments on county roads, and the city can’t build arterials fast enough,” Fuller said. “Folks in the southwest are having the same problem. Everybody kept thinking that the growth was over, and it’s never over.”
Fort Worth City Council member Michael Crain represents District 3, which spans from Chisholm Trail Parkway and stops just outside of Aledo. The majority of his district is outside of I-820.
He said the rapid growth on the western side is an area of concern for him as the city plans for the next 10 years.
“How are we going to build the infrastructure that we need with the growth that is coming? I don’t want to leave my successor with the problem that we have now in the north part of Fort Worth where we’re trying to play catch-up with all the growth. It’s not fair to our residents,” Crain said.
Council member Jared Williams’ southwest District 6 is primarily outside of I-820 and encompasses parts of Fort Worth from the interstate south to Burleson. He said his goal is to ensure new development in his district is intentional.
“As new development comes in, (we want to ensure) that we have agreements between the developer and the city that ensures that we get proper infrastructure,” Williams said.
Hogan, the Chapel Creek Neighborhood Association president, worries that the city’s lack of infrastructure planning will only lead to more problems in the future similar to those happening in his part of Fort Worth.
“And that’s what happened in the far northwest area,” Hogan said. “They just kept building and building and building and putting schools up and all that. And now the city’s going to allocate this bond package to try to fix that.”
Ann Zadeh, executive director for Community Design Fort Worth and a former council member, said the problem lies in the fact that people have to use their car for every single trip.
Expanding roads is not the solution to ease pressure on infrastructure, she said.
“The idea that you can expand roads to deal with congestion is just not an accurate thing,” she said. “The more you expand roads, the more you induce people to drive and so that congestion just ramps back up again into that expanded space.”
Getting it right
To deal with the rapid growth, the city of Fort Worth relies on its comprehensive plan, which is updated annually. The plan forecasts Fort Worth’s growth for the next 20 years and how to sustain it.
City staff described the plan as a way to plan out capital infrastructure projects in anticipation of growth. The plan also strategically allocated resources toward those projects, said Dana Burghdoff, assistant city manager.
Brad Lonberger, Community Design Fort Worth board chair and architect at Place Strategies, said the current urban sprawl seen in Fort Worth’s frontiers limits housing options to either single-family homes or apartment complexes. This, in turn, limits revenue streams that could be redirected toward improving infrastructure, he said.
“The more buildings we can fit on a lot, the more per-square-foot value the city gets in revenue, not just for property tax, but also sales tax because you’ve got more people living in an area,” Lonberger said.
The cost of maintaining infrastructure in rapidly growing parts of the city won’t be covered by the tax dollars generated from single-family neighborhoods, Community Design Fort Worth’s Zadeh said.
“We end up with areas in the city that have aging infrastructure that don’t have what they need in order to be maintained,” Zadeh said.
The upcoming 2022 bond sets aside over $369 million for infrastructure, mostly in the northwest part of Fort Worth. Crain hopes the city will be able to find additional investments to address the growth in other parts of the city.
Addressing these issues come down to working with private developers to meet residents’ needs and looking at infrastructure from a holistic perspective, he said.
“Are we asking the developers to do as much as they can and help us solve this problem? Because even though it might be one development in this small piece in this area, it really is going to affect the whole area as part of it,” Crain said.
The city also recently adopted a PayGo funding pile, which included a $4.4 million increase in fiscal year 2022. The fund can be used to address street maintenance, sidewalks and street lighting.
“It’s giving us the ability to be a lot more responsive to the means of capital improvement across our districts in between our bond programs,” Williams said.
Voters will consider the $560 million bond May 7. Between that and federal dollars from last year’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, city officials anticipate they will be able to address many of Fort Worth’s pressing transportation needs.
Nonetheless, Huckaby, the far northwest Fort Worth resident, and others concerned about infrastructure outside of the loop plan to be a constant presence at City Council meetings.
Huckaby believes that tactic has been helpful to start seeing change in her neighborhood. In the past six months, Huckaby has voiced her concerns five times at City Hall.
“We have not let up the pressure,” she said.
Fort Worth Report fellow Sandra Sadek may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. 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.