AUSTIN – The traffic on I-35 is stopped dead both ways, and it’s not even rush hour. Our state capital tried to solve this problem by double decking the freeway, but no luck (never play Texas Hold ‘Em with two decks). The road is the main north-south Interstate through the town, so to bypass this roadblock, they built a toll road looping from north of Austin, east of the city south to I-10 at Seguin. That bypass is so lightly used the project is facing bond foreclosure. The road has an 85-mph speed limit which adds excitement to the frequent collision with feral hogs. Incidentally, if you are wondering why there is no major east-west road through Austin, as Bob Lanier, then-chairman of the Texas Highway Commission, told me, “Not many people drive to Fredericksburg.”
Too many cars is another example of Texas’s growing pains. Take Austin, for example. In 1840 – before Texas was counted in the U.S. Census – the town’s population was 553. Today it is estimated at 912,791 and has a net growth of 110 new souls each day. This is occurring in an area of 319 square miles for a density of 2,619 people per square mile. In contrast, Dallas has a population of 1,257,000 in an area of 393 square miles for a population density of 3,575. Houston has a population of 2,571,090 (but it’s early in the day) and has a density of 3,071. The Bayou City is the biggest in area, covering 655 square miles. Geographically, within the city limits of Houston you could put New York City, Washington D.C., Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis and Miami. Now here’s an interesting point. Dallas is totally surrounded by suburbs and can’t grow in area, while Houston has Extraterritorial Jurisdiction, a state edict that lets the city annex almost any non-incorporated areas it wishes.
Austin is the fastest growing big city in the country, and is also the second largest state capital in the U.S. after Phoenix, Ariz. Yep, bigger than other state capitals such as Boston, Denver and Atlanta. According to U.S. Census figures, Austin’s population grew 2.9 percent during the 12 months that ended in July of 2014. Among the 50 largest American cities, next was Denver with 2.4 percent growth. No other major city even came close. Austin is now Texas’ fourth largest city and has already passed up Fort Worth, El Paso, Arlington and all the rest in population. Little D, keep looking over your shoulder. Austin is getting closer.
We all know that newcomers are streaming into Texas from the other 49 states and from Central America — the number of illegal immigrant children from there has soared from around 7,000 to 8,000 a year earlier in this decade, to 24,668 last fiscal year. As of September of 2014 more than 52,000 had arrived in the U.S. The number has fallen quite a bit, perhaps because there aren’t any of them left down there. By far the largest group stay in Texas, and go to our schools. Thanks goodness we don’t have a problem with public education in Texas.
As for others from the U.S. arriving in the Lone Star State, well, in light of the brouhaha over the Confederate flag and UT statues, the Yankees invaded Texas in 1865 and it’s clear they’re still coming. Today Texas is the only state with three cities in the top 10 in population, but even among the three, the order keeps changing. Awhile back I noted that Mike Cox, in his syndicated column, “Texas Tales,” determined in the first U.S. Census of Texans, in 1850, the enumerators found 212,592 people in the state, including slaves but not Indians. The top 10 looked like this: Galveston (4,177), San Antonio (3,488), Houston (2,396), New Braunfels (1,723), Marshall (1,180), Gonzales (1,072), Victoria (802), Fredericksburg (754), Austin (629), Corpus Christi (533).
Four different cities have been Number 1 in the state: Galveston, San Antonio and Dallas once (1890). Houston took over in 1930 and has been there ever since. Dallas finally broke in as ninth biggest in Texas in 1860, right behind Sulphur Springs. By 1880 Big D was still smaller than Austin, yet within 10 years, 1890, Dallas was briefly the biggest city in Texas. Today it has been surpassed by San Antonio, and as noted earlier, Austin is gaining. Incidentally, Houston’s population is about 600,000 less than Chicago’s. Houston is gaining, and since 2000 Chicago has actually lost population.
In five years we shall have the 2020 U.S. Census, which means a lot of changes, such as an increase in the number of U.S. Representatives from Texas. This will also mean more gerrymandering – Tom DeLay figured how to divide Travis County into five different Congressional districts to dilute the People’s Republic’s vote. Need a government job? Start running for Congress, as there will be several openings. Texas will also have more votes in the Electoral College. Speaking of colleges, UT-Austin has been holding its enrollment at about 50,000 for decades while the number of the state’s college-bound students has exploded. Make sure your kid is in the top 0.01 percent of her class, or, as we have seen, you can give generously to the UT endowment. Texas A&M, however, continues to grow its enrollment, in one case by simply buying a small law school in Fort Worth, lock, stock and gavel.
Ashby is growing at firstname.lastname@example.org