Logan Swords opened his music store, Swords Music Co., on East Lancaster Avenue back in 1969. Swords’ store is the oldest music shop in Fort Worth, and while his music has played on, neighboring restaurants and businesses have become few and far between.
“It used to be an upscale area,” he said. “It was a sought after area for entertainment.”
East Lancaster served as an important transportation link between Fort Worth and Dallas until the late 1950s when the Dallas-Fort Worth Turnpike opened. Today, that turnpike is known as Interstate 30. The turnpike’s opening siphoned around 17,000 cars a day off East Lancaster Avenue, causing a slow decline in the economic corridor as restaurants, hotels and other businesses struggled from less traffic.
The perception of East Lancaster Avenue as an unsafe area often deters people from coming by his store but has seen very few major crimes, Swords said.
Officials are looking at ways to use internet access to improve transportation and economic development along the corridor, as part of the redevelopment of East Lancaster.
The $182 million investment into the area is expected to boost economic growth along the corridor, while improving safety and transportation. Broadband, or internet access, is among key factors in meeting those goals as Tarrant County is expected to hit 3 million in population by 2045.
“We would welcome the redevelopment of this part of the city,” Swords said. “We would certainly love for new businesses to come in and make it more like 7th Street and Magnolia Avenue. That’d be great.”
The North Central Texas Council of Governments will be submitting at least one federal grant application on behalf of the city of Fort Worth and the region in support of the East Lancaster Corridor. According to a city press release, the city is working with TxDOT, the Council of Governments and Trinity Metro to further develop the design and start implementation.
The city put out a request for proposals earlier in 2022 for broadband enhancements and has received six proposals, Michelle Gutt, communications and public engagement director for the city of Fort Worth, said in an email to the Report. Those proposals are being reviewed by a committee made up of representatives from several city departments.
At this time, there is no timeline for approving proposals, Gutt said.
“This project is the latest effort by the city to expand broadband access to residents, particularly in traditionally underserved communities,” the email read. “City staff is also exploring other partnerships to help provide connectivity and access to all Fort Worth residents.”
Internet as transportation?
The announcement of the funding means everyone has to get on board and discuss all options moving forward, Michael Morris, director of transportation at the council of governments, told the Fort Worth Report.
Among the main goals of the East Lancaster redevelopment is the implementation of broadband and expanding its use to benefit transportation, education and workforce development.
“(My program is starting to lay) the broadband infrastructure to help facilitate both physical transportation through the Lancaster corridor, but also connect people in those communities to broadband and jobs, education, and other life activities,” Thomas Bamonte, senior program manager for transportation, technology and innovation at the North Central Texas Council of Governments, said.
In response to a demand to bring back the corridor to its former self, the city of Fort Worth, Trinity Metro, the North Central Texas Council of Governments and the Texas Department of Transportation began working on a transit-oriented development plan called Advancing East Lancaster. The plan was released in April 2022.
Broadband additions along East Lancaster would go beyond connecting traffic signals with fiber and improving communication that works with transportation, Bamonte said.
“That’s been done repeatedly. What I think is unique is the notion that we’re using broadband access, we’re advancing it as a mode of transportation in and of itself. That is what’s unique here,” he said. “We’re using existing technology like fiber, but we’re saying broadband access should be considered a form of transportation, when it comes to finding and planning for transportation.”
What is Broadband?
Broadband is always-on, high-speed internet access. Internet access has become more necessary over the years as a foundation for economic growth, education, and healthcare.
Under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, around $65 billion was allocated to address broadband nationwide.
Bamonte applauded Fort Worth for taking a leadership position regionally in exploring these technologies and cited overseas examples of successful integration of transportation and innovation.
“Around the world… we’re seeing that successful metropolitan areas will offer their people good travel in physical space, and good travel in virtual space. The more of those connections we can make to jobs, medicine, education, etc, the more productive they will be,” he said.
In 2021, the Texas Broadband Development Office was created to study the need and impact of increased broadband access across the state. During a March 22, 2022 visit to Fort Worth, the Texas Comptroller — who oversees this broadband office — conducted town hall-style forums to gather information about access to internet access.
According to BroadbandUSA, 10.2% of households in Tarrant County are without internet access.
A March 2019 joint report by The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Amazon estimated that increasing access to digital tools for rural small businesses in Texas could generate over $6.7 million in annual sales and over 23,000 jobs.
Safety and Efficiency
Improved safety along the corridor is another aspect that would benefit from broadband expansion. Bamonte said the Council of Governments and local partners agencies are looking at using this technology to improve the flow of emergency vehicles to the Medical District and getting transit vehicles through traffic signals more efficiently.
“We just kicked off earlier this month what’s called the Freight Vehicle Intersection Optimization Project that’s designed to get freight vehicles through up to 500 signalized intersections in the region more effectively,” Bamonte said. “What we’ll be doing is using that same technology to explore emergency vehicle and transit periods, optimizing the flow of those types of vehicles through signalized intersections that will help safety emergency response and on-time transit services.”
Another transportation aspect of the East Lancaster Corridor project benefiting from expanded broadband is Trinity Metro’s high-capacity transit project: a bus rapid transit line. Often described as a light rail on rubber wheels, this bus line would have dedicated lanes, signal priority, level boarding like a train platform and off-board ticket vending machines.
“If that would bring us customers that kind of spendable money, that would be very welcome,” Swords said.
Another new feature of the bus rapid transit line is the potential extension of the seven mile route into Arlington’s entertainment district, adding an additional two miles. The new route would add four stations in the district for a $70 million capital cost, according to a June 21 Trinity Metro presentation. However, Trinity Metro and Fort Worth City Council are still discussing this route option and have not made a final decision.
While there is potential to use the proposed broadband infrastructure to work together with the bus rapid transit line, Chad Edwards, vice president of planning and development for Trinity Metro, said that has not yet been fully identified.
“There’s still a lot to learn about the idea of broadband being a transportation option,” Edwards said.
“Everybody’s trying to get their head around what that means. If somebody makes an investment in the corridor… It’s certainly an opportunity for us and the transit agency to utilize that for information sharing and things like that for our vehicles. Consumer information that riders would want to know about the public transportation system — we can overlay and utilize that information system that the Council of Governments is planning to install,” he said.
While East Lancaster Avenue awaits for its moment, Swords said “this is still where I would choose to be” to run his music shop.
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