We should focus on ‘sustaining our growth’: DRC hosts first State of Infrastructure

By Catie George, Manager, Communications and Storytelling

The Dallas Regional Chamber (DRC) hosted its inaugural State of Infrastructure, presented by Jacobs, on Tuesday, Oct. 24, for local and state officials to discuss energy, water, transportation, and housing needs — and plans to address those needs with safety, security, and equity in mind.

Dr. Skylar Olsen of Zillow Group

As the Dallas Region continues to expand, so does the need to support its growing population.

“Current trends project that DFW can become the third largest metro area in the United States by as soon as 2028,” said Ron Williams, Senior Vice President and General Manager for the Americas of Jacobs. “With that in mind, infrastructure needs in the region, now more than ever, are critically important to sustaining our growth.”

The Dallas Region must plan for that inevitable growth starting now, said Nadine Lee, President and CEO of DART.

“We are literally going to bring this region to a sleeping halt if we welcome 4 million people to the region without rethinking our resources, so it’s really a critical time for us to be thinking about the future,” said Lee in a panel moderated by AJ Rodriguez of Texas 2036. “Those 4 million people aren’t going to show up tomorrow. They’re going to trickle in over 20 years, and we’re going to try to keep up with the pace of that growth. But all the while, if we’re just ignoring transportation mobility problems, we’re not only going to hurt our economic productivity in this region, we’re also going to leave a ton of people behind.”

Experts say strains on the Dallas Region’s housing needs will increase as the population grows.

“We face growing pains because people move so much more easily than we can build homes,” said Dr. Skylar Olsen, Chief Economist at the Zillow Group “At the same time, it’s a bit of a success story when we think about how far Dallas has come.”

Olsen emphasized that Dallas has the people, companies, and opportunities available to continue shaping the bright future of the region as long as business leaders and policy makers don’t lose sight of the region’s needs. Olsen’s keynote presentation focused on the affordability and availability of housing throughout the Dallas Region.

Transportation and Mobility panel featuring Moderator AJ Rodriguez of Texas 2036; Ceason Clemens of TxDOT; The Honorable Clay Lewis Jenkins; and Nadine Lee of DART.

“When we talk about affordability in a place like Dallas, what we’re basically looking at is the tension between what was here before and all the people that are going to come… There’s still a lot more need,” said Olsen. “We’ve got a lot of work still to do.”

Olsen suggested solutions like shared housing spaces, joining with others to buy houses that would otherwise be too expensive, and getting creative about housing solutions throughout the region.

In addition to housing, transportation is another important area for improvement.

“You’re here in Dallas County where twelve of our cities are DART members and another five of our cities are served by Star Transit. But we have 31 cities,” said the Honorable Clay Lewis Jenkins, Dallas County Judge. “We’ve got to look at ways to modernize the system.”

Luckily, the transportation infrastructure in the Dallas Region has funds coming from the Texas Department of Transportation.

“We are fortunate our Texas Transportation Commission approved a record Unified Transportation Plan last August. So, over the next ten years in the state of Texas, we plan on spending $100 billion on roadway construction projects,” said Ceason Clemens, Dallas District Engineer of the Texas Department of Transportation. “Of that $100 billion, $16.7 billion is coming to North Texas. We’re very fortunate to get that influx of funding.”

Adding millions of people to the Dallas Region also presents a more pressing issue: water. The DRC hosted a Tomorrow Fund Breakfast back in April that focused on the necessity of water to the region. Additionally, the Good for Texans campaign helped pass Proposition 6 in the Nov. 7 election to fund water infrastructure projects across the state.

“All of these opportunities that exist out there need a workforce. We have to be very strategic about our approach to making sure that we can have that,” said Aaron Demerson, then-Commissioner of the Texas Workforce Commission and now-President and CEO of the Texas Economic Development Corporation. “At the end of the day, economic development is impossible without water. And if you don’t have water, you got one problem.”

Investing in Texas’ Future panel featuring Moderator AJ Rodriguez of Texas 2036; George Peyton of Texas Water Development Board; and Aaron Demerson of Texas Workforce Commission.

Luckily, experts and professionals have already started working on new and innovative water sources to increase water access and availability for future North Texans.

“The state has set up several programs. The biggest one thinking about water supplies going forward is a program called the State Water Infrastructure Fund for Texas, or SWIFT,” said George Peyton, Board Member of the Texas Water Development Board. “SWIFT is a dynamic program where we are able to take a dollar the taxpayer funds and turn it into about $10 worth of infrastructure projects across the state. It works really, really well.”

Though the Dallas Region faces a variety of challenges as it continues to grow and thrive, State of Infrastructure’s panelists and keynote remained positive.

“We are uniquely blessed with folks that make a difference and take care of business to keep us moving forward,” said Demerson. “This state is going to go a very long way.”

The State of Infrastructure was presented by Jacobs. Thank you to our gold sponsors, Southwest and Toyota, and our silver sponsors, American Airlines, Carrington, Coleman, Sloman, & Blumenthal, Oncor, and Verizon.

To learn more about the work the DRC’s Public Policy team is doing, visit the DRC website.