The current petroleum industry surge has created new opportunities for growth, development and employment in Midland and the surrounding area. But it has also created challenges in the Basin’s transportation infrastructure.

In order to keep pace with the booming economy, there has been an increase in heavy industrial traffic and the number of drivers, as well as the need for safer road conditions and more roads. In the true spirit of West Texas cooperation, many agencies have come together to provide effective and safe solutions to the growing road and highway needs in the area.

Gary Law, director of project development at the Midland Development Corporation (MDC), said industry leaders recognize how valuable infrastructure is to Midland’s economy.

“To remain at the forefront of economic development activities in our area, the MDC’s Board of Directors recognize safe, reliable and resilient transportation systems are essential for Midland to remain one of the fastest-growing economies in the country,” Law said.

Midland’s ability to attract and retain businesses is presently limited by its infrastructure capacity and availability of housing, community service and family support functions. But, a continual focus on improving transportation is one of the things that will draw new businesses and families to Midland and the Permian Basin.

Through funding incentives, innovative programs and financing solutions, the MDC supports Midland in shaping its transportation planning and project development efforts. Examples of MDC efforts include leveraging local funds to attract state and federal transportation funds, participating in the citywide radio system that coordinates traffic signals and financing the construction of the Carver Street bridge project, which is designed to eliminate a hazardous low-water crossing and improve pedestrian and vehicle safety. ’

People are taking notice of the cooperation.

“We are excited to be moving forward with this improvement,” said City Councilman John B. Love III. His district is home to the Carver bridge. “All children deserve a safe route to school. This new bridge, with ramps and sidewalks, will make that a reality.”

Law also pointed out that the Texas Department of Transportation’s 2019 Unified Transportation Plan is a positive reflection on the MDC’s effort of leveraging local funds to attract state and federal transportation construction funds. In 2019, construction is scheduled to begin on a Loop 250 overpass of County Road 1150 (Elkins Road) and County Road 60. MDCs contribution of $2 million was able to attract $19.5 million of state Strategic Priority and federal/state Urban Corridor funding. In 2020, planned construction will add a second Loop 250 overpass at County Road 1140 and a new interchange at IH-20 at Midkiff Road. MDC’s contribution of $5 million was able to attract $43.2 million of federal/state Urban Corridor and Urban Connectivity funding. In 2021, construction is set to begin to improve traffic flow at the Loop 250 and Highway 191 interchange. Again, MDC’s contribution of $2 million was able to leverage federal and state priorities to bring $23.3 million of federal/state funding to Midland.

A new interchange is also planned at IH-20 and CR 1250 in 2020. These projects are intended to provide safe and effective routes to work for the city’s workforce, as well as provide assistance to development in the city of Midland.

“With many cities vying for businesses to remain or establish in their communities, often it is an unquantifiable community spirit and demonstration of values that tip the scales of decision,” Law added.

Cameron Walker is executive director of the Permian Basin Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). The MPO is the federally mandated agency that provides continuous, coordinated and comprehensive planning and programming of transportation systems. Walker echoed both Law and Love, saying transportation safety was paramount.

“Improving safety for all modes of transportation is our goal,” Walker said. The MPO is attuned especially to the infrastructure needs in Midland and its neighboring city, Odessa, and the region. Areas of focus include highway, transit, bicycle and pedestrian facilities, and drainage to name a few.

The MPO leverages state and federal dollars with local economic development funds to improve major road systems such as Fairgrounds Road, Loop 250 and others. “The MPO is the major funding source and policy making body that directs the expenditure of state, federal and local dollars on the state transportation network including IH-20, Loop 250, SH 158, SH 191, SH 349, FM 715 and others,” Walker said. “All proposed improvements to these facilities must be contained in the MPO’s fiscally constrained long-range planning document and subsequently identified in a short-range planning document once funding is secured.”

While the MDC and others recognize the current needs of Midland and the region, it is also important to keep an eye on planning for the future, Law added. Business and industry needs will include obtaining necessary right-of-way for roads and utilities in advance of oil and gas exploration activities, as well as securing funds to rehabilitate or reconstruct the existing systems while simultaneously expanding the network of utilities and roads to meet emerging requirements.

The MDC also hopes to see new, planned communities emerge that meet housing needs as well as transportation needs.

“The construction of additional housing needs to be through planned community neighborhoods – laying out location of streets, schools, parks, entertainment venues and commercial activities. And to support the growth and to retain a viable workforce, these community neighborhoods need to incorporate multimodal/dual purpose public corridors such as including bicycle/pedestrian facilities and parkways,” Law said.

MOTRAN, or the Midland-Odessa Transportation Alliance, is another agency dedicated to expanding infrastructure in the area. Since 2003, MOTRAN has been able to secure an additional $1.5 billion in area funding, in addition to normal program amounts.

MOTRAN is not a governmental entity, but rather a local nonprofit geared towards improving the Permian Basin, composed of both public and private partners.

“The unique partnership that forms MOTRAN provides us strong working relationships with the public entities that make decisions and the private sector businesses and individuals who drive those needs,” said MOTRAN Vice President Dustin Fawcett.

MOTRAN is credited with the four-lane conversions of state highways 349 and 158, the expansion of the Presidio International Bridge and the expansion of US 385 to a four lane, divided highway between Crane and IH-10. In 2017, MOTRAN led the charge to bring IH-14 to Midland-Odessa.

MOTRAN created the plan with MDC and the Odessa Development Corporation to raise an additional $30 million to leverage Department of Transportation projects and bring additional state infrastructure dollars to Midland-Odessa. These funds are helping with development of critical infrastructure including completion of both loops to a freeway design standard.

Currently MOTRAN is working with Midland County to establish a south loop in Midland County and the Yukon Road extension to provide another arterial roadway between Midland and Odessa. In addition, they are heading the data collection component of a freight study with Texas Department of Transportation and the Texas Transportation Institute to provide better estimates of area trucking and freight miles.

“This information is critical,” said MOTRAN President James Beauchamp. “For years, people have had to guess about the transportation impact in the energy industry. Better data will give us better basis to make decisions, select projects and prioritize development based on real results.”

“From January through July of 2018, Midland County has seen its labor force increase by more than 6,200 workers,” Beauchamp said. “With that type of labor force increase and its accompanying increase in population, the challenges for Midland are greater than ever. MOTRAN is committed to our future. We have built effective partnerships and we work even harder to meet those challenges.”

These planned projects are great news for businesses and drivers. Law believes exploring new ideas with a “can-do” attitude toward solving problems will improve connectivity for Midland’s workforce and economy.