North Texas transportation planners are promoting new projects big and small to create jobs in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that put thousands of people out of work.
One consulting firm lobbying the U.S. government for stimulus funding estimates 240,000 new jobs could be created in North Texas alone by moving forward with several proposed construction projects.
Transportation Director Michael Morris with the North Central Texas Council of Governments leads the Regional Transportation Council.
He was involved with local use of federal money that helped the region recover from the 2009 financial crisis. He is using that experience as the blueprint for a new effort.
“We’re getting the old band back together,” Morris said. “We’re going to try to replicate what we did in ’09 in the financial crisis, but this time we’re going to focus not just on big projects. We’re going to focus on small projects also.”
Morris shared PowerPoint documents, one from a June 11, 2020 meeting and another to be shared with local officials on Friday. They detail possible projects big and small that could put people to work.
One big project is the reconstruction of State Highway 183 in Fort Worth, Euless and Irving, on the south side of DFW Airport.
Single toll lanes in each direction were added to the roadway a few years ago, but the segment is still much smaller, with fewer lanes than what a private group completed to the east and west of the segment.
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Morris said the private group that built the road is obligated to spend $1.29 billion on additional work for more lanes through the middle section.
“None of this money is federal money. None of this money is state money. One hundred percent of this money is private sector money,” Morris said. “We’re moving out and coming up with innovative ideas on how to fund transportation projects, not waiting on the federal or state government.”
Consulting company AECOM put five of the proposed North Texas jobs on a list of 110 projects across the nation that it suggests for use of new Federal stimulus money if it is approved.
“It’s all about job creation and using the economic stimulus funding for infrastructure to create those jobs,” said Wendy Lopez, an AECOM manager in North Texas.
The firm estimates the five projects could create the 240,000 new North Texas jobs with $19.7 billion in construction cost for future value to the region of $72.8 billion.
The biggest of the five is the Texas Central Railway’s proposed $16 billion high-speed rail between Dallas and Houston. AECOM estimates the HSR project alone could create 193,000 jobs if approval is granted as the TCR hopes it will be later this year. Texas Central has said it can build the project without government money but Lopez said stimulus assistance could help. Opponents still vow to stop the project.
Also among the five on AECOM’s list is $200 million in work at DFW Airport, $1.6 billion for the Southeast Connector project to improve Loop 820 at Interstate 20 in Fort Worth, $1.4 billion for DART’s D-2 Downtown Dallas subway project and $500 million for the Virgin Hyperloop. North Texas is one of 10 finalists for the Hyperloop demonstration project.
“If we could use the economic stimulus funding for infrastructure, to look at next-generation type projects, projects that are big and bold, that would really move our region forward,” Lopez said.
The coronavirus pandemic has drastically cut the number of DFW Airport passengers, but Morris said roadway improvement south of the airport could be perfectly timed for the return of traffic.
“I think it will take 2 or 3 years to go back to its previous level. Wouldn’t it be nice to be constructing this critical piece south of the airport when demand is a little bit less?” he said. “We’re working hard to expedite, find money and develop innovative relationships.”
The Airport Freeway project would also provide direct connections to DFW Airport from managed toll lanes that lack exits for the airport now.
The transportation planners estimate the Airport Freeway project will generate 2,500 construction jobs and another 5,000 jobs with money the workers and contractors spend in the local economy. It is the one project on the list for which funding is in place.
Others are in various stages of planning until money and government approvals are finalized.