San Marcos, Cedar Park among fastest growing cities in US

HOUSTON (AP) — They grow everything bigger in Texas, even the cities.

New data from the Census Bureau shows that three of the nation’s five fastest-growing cities are located in the Lone Star State. San Marcos, Frisco and Cedar Park, Texas were No. 1, 2 and 4 in percentage population growth between 2012 and 2013.

The other two fast-growing cities were in Utah: South Jordan, at No. 3 and Lehi, at No. 5.

This is the second year in a row that San Marcos, on Interstate 35 between Austin and San Antonio, has topped the list of fastest-growing cities with a population of more than 50,000. Its population grew by 8 percent between July 2012 and 2013 to 54,076 people.

That’s well ahead of its 2011-12 increase of 4.9 percent.

Now these cities need to have enough roads, schools, water and infrastructure to keep up — the growing pains of a surging population. And while it is viewed as opportunity, city planners are frazzled.

San Marcos Mayor Daniel Guerrero noted that while the city has been enjoying steady growth for years, and set aside money to keep up, not everything has gone as planned. The Great Recession and a sudden rise in costs forced San Marcos to delay major construction. Now, it is rushing to lay down new roads, expand existing ones, add bike paths and repair or replace old utility pipelines.

“So throughout San Marcos you see a multitude of construction,” Guerrero said.

Odessa, Texas, smack-dab in the middle of the oil-rich Permian Basin, is No. 11 on the Census Bureau list. People are flooding the oil fields, booming thanks to new hydraulic fracturing technologies that allow drillers access to once out-of-reach resources.

People are lured by higher-than-average salaries, but developers can’t build homes quickly enough, the schools are rapidly filling and an overburdened water supply, made worse by a long drought, is stretched thin.

“It’s a challenge to continue to provide services to the rising population when you’re competing with the same workforce and labor that the oil field is. So that means that the municipalities have to adjust their pay scale … to try to attract the labor,” said Richard Morton, Odessa’s city manager. “We’re growing, but we’re not growing fast enough.”

Frisco, a suburb about 30 miles north of Dallas, has had growth “so long and sustained that we’re used to it,” said Mayor Maher Maso. Just 15 years ago there were only five schools in Frisco’s main school district. Now, there are 56 and seven under construction, he said.

Those numbers tell the story of who’s moving in. The city’s median age is 34, one-third of the population is under 17 and about 10 percent are under age 5. Maso said this has translated into an active community.

“People are involved out here, they value their children’s education, they value public safety,” he said, noting a $775 million school bond passed with a margin of nearly 80 percent.

For Texas, though, water is a concern, highlighted by years of debilitating drought.

Conservation is key, Maso said, and his city has distributed rain-water barrels, changed reuse policies and is trying to make better arrangements to get water from a river on the Oklahoma border.

“That resource is challenging and we have to change the way we do things,” he said.

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