Meet the New Metroplex

Is Austin-San Antonio the next Texas megaregion? These experts think so.

Is Austin-San Antonio the next Texas megaregion? Experts think so.

Austin skyline downtown at night
The San Antonio-Austin megaregion extends from the edge of DFW to the Mexican border, according to a new study. Texas Wide Open for Business/Facebook

If commuting patterns are a reliable indication, the San Antonio-Austin area qualifies as a “megaregion.” That’s among the conclusions of a new study designed to illustrate so-called megaregions in the U.S. based on commuter traffic.

The study, by researchers Garrett Dash Nelson and Alasdair Rae, employed data from the U.S. Census Bureau — representing more than 4 million commute-to-work paths — to pinpoint megaregions across the country. They labeled one of those megaregions as San Antonio-Austin.

According to Nelson and Rae, megaregions, which are anchored by major metropolitan hubs, are valuable instruments for explaining the country’s “economic geography.” However, geographically defining megaregions has historically “turned out to be rather tricky,” National Geographic says.

“The emergence in the United States of large-scale ‘megaregions’ centered on major metropolitan areas is a phenomenon often taken for granted in both scholarly studies and popular accounts of contemporary economic geography,” Nelson and Rae reported in research journal PLOS ONE.

In their study, Nelson and Rae used a visualization method and an algorithmic tool to map out U.S. megaregions linked by workers’ commuting patterns. In Texas, they say those megaregions are Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, El Paso, Rio Grande Valley, West Texas, Amarillo-Lubbock, and San Antonio-Austin.

On their megaregion map, Nelson and Rae show San Antonio-Austin extending from the edge of the Dallas-Fort Worth megaregion to the Mexican border. It is sandwiched east-west between the West Texas and Houston megaregions. The map doesn’t indicate which counties or communities, aside from the two main cities, are in the San Antonio-Austin megaregion. However, it’s probably a stretch for the San Antonio-Austin megaregion to cover as much territory as the researchers indicate it does.

In a certain sense, San Antonio-Austin already is a megaregion, but it’s not at the level of a more tightly bound megaregion like Dallas-Fort Worth. In fact, some experts predict San Antonio-Austin won’t transform into a true megaregion until 2025, and other experts don’t think San Antonio-Austin ever will be on the same scale as DFW.

To be sure, though, the officially separate San Antonio and Austin metro areas continue to grow toward each other, with San Antonio suburb New Braunfels and Austin suburb San Marcos at the epicenter of this north-south collision. One projection shows the San Antonio-Austin region, connected by the I-35 corridor, will be home to more than 5.7 million people in 2030, up from nearly 4.3 million in 2014.

The researchers behind the study don’t think their work is the final word on San Antonio-Austin or any other megaregion they outlined.

“We believe the megaregions we identify are a true reflection of the economic geography of the United States,” Rae says in a news release, “but of course they need to be tested and validated in the real world for them to have real use.”