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Future Texas growth patterns depend on technology, "smart growth"

How we'll grow in Texas
Traffic  builds on Highway 84 toward McGregor almost daily
Posted at 11:13 AM, Apr 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-18 12:35:19-04

CENTRAL TEXAS & BRAZOS VALLEY -  — We've heard it in the news a lot lately, the 1-housand people a day who move to Texas.
It's sent property values soaring and created a housing shortage.
So get ready for cities to grow... but HOW will they grow?
The rest of Texas has begun to learn what people in the big cities have known for years.
It's gettin' more crowded around these parts.
It's begun to affect commute times for people like David reed.
"How far are you willing to drive to go to work? What's the most? I drive 30 miles from work righrt now, so that's what's comfortable for me. Would you drive further? Depends on the money, if the money's good, I'll drive a little further," said David Reed, East Texas.
And that's affected growth patterns in both Central Texas and the Brazos Valley.
Planner Chris Evilia says, it's all about convenience.
"They don't want to live, necessarily too far away from, say, where they work, or where their kids go to school," said Evilia, of the Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Maps show growth in McLennan County looking a lot like one you'd see for Bell, and to a lesser extent Brazos and other, counties.
It shows all the develooped property up to a few years ago.
it shows multiple little pockets of growth.
Eventually, we'll need new or bigger roads to get from place to place.
Evilia has a plans for accomodating that growth... just one catch.
"Generally we don't necessarily have a forecast for the resources to be there, at least in the next 25 years. So you know what you wanna do, you just don't know if there's gonna be money there to do it," he explained.
How do you get around that uncertainty?
"Okay, well if we know we're gonna be hard pressed to afford some of these improvements, Then do we need to talk about a different pattern of growth, one that maybe isn't as dependent on some of these really big transportation projects." he said.
Planners call the concept, "Smart Growth". in probably oversimplified terms, growing only where you can afford to, areas already served by water, sewer and roads.
"Far as the network is concerned with, we've got good bones in place, we can definitely build upon that," he said.
For now, we have some breathing room, but the fact that planners have begun to think about smart growth, indicates... the growth could turn out bigger than expected.
No news to Reed who says where HE lives, it's already here.
"Traffic's getting worse. Longer delays, bumper-to-bumper, short tempers, That kinda thing, but that's just life, I suppose," he said.
If you want to see the future of Central Texas, experts say, take a look at its past.
Specifically, the old ALICO Building.
"It's a land marker for the city of waco here. It's rather iconic. It's the only high rise, well maybe not the only high rise, but certainly the tallest one we have here in Waco," said Gary Myles of Waco.
Excatly why planners call it a harbinger of the futrure.
Truth is, at some point down here, we'll run out of room.
So planners come up with novel ideas like this:
"There's an effort to try to bring more infill development into the city. Well that's what we're certainly hoping for," said Evilia.
Planners are pushing infill as a way to fill in the gaps inside city limits.... a less expensive alternative to the suburban sprawl, that lines highway 84, for instance.
Perfect example: the Floyd Casey Stadium property developers hope to turn into a planned community.
But it's a limited resource.
"Given the amount of population growth, not just our region but Texas in general, you know, there's just a limit to how much infill you can actually absorb, you know, basically you have to start going up at some point."
Which leads us back to the good ol' ALICO, the very first skyscraper in Texas, and the tallest building west of the Mississippi and south of the Mason/Dixon until 1922.
Why didn't we get more tall buildings? Well, say experts, it's cheaper to spread out...until, like Evilia said, you start to run out of room.
So you can say, with confidence, the ALICO is the only skyscraper in our part of Texas... for now.
...Until the NEXT skyscraper gets built.
Till then, the ALICO has had a fantastic run.
What about congestion and getting around? Innovative thinking can help.
"We've got real visionary leaders here who are willing to think outside the box on things I mean the, this idea of bus rapid transit to basically reinvent public transportation.
That's not how most communities use BRT near T is mostly for a congested corridor. This is something really innovative and outside the box," said Evilia.
Then there's this:
"What's interesting is this whole question about automated vehicles that we're starting to talk about. The idea is, if I don't have to actively drive the vehicle, I could be doing something else, emails, watching movie whatever," he said.
Right now, nobody's given much thought as to whether that's a blessing or a curse though it could blow a giant hole in the so-called 30 minute commute rule.
"Then is an hour commute as big of a deal. We don't know but that's sometjing alot of people are doing some research on."
And what if it becomes popular to "live" in your self-driving car?
"I think we created a new problem," said Evilia.
While that's a ways off... though not as much as some would like, the wide open spaces here, are still wide open, for now.
And denial is not an option.
"We keep hearing about Austin don't build it and they won't come, but they came anyway," he said.