If you’ve ever traversed the I-30 corridor, shopped ‘til you dropped at the Parks at Arlington Mall, cheered for the home teams at Globe Life Field or AT&T Stadium, or clocked in and out of Six Flags Over Texas via the employee entrance off Copeland Road, all that has been made possible in part by the Graham Associates civil engineering firm. Founded in 1972, the firm has played an integral role in building Arlington this last half century.
When the firm first set up shop in Arlington they may have only had a single client to their credit, but it was a doozy: The Great Southwest Corporation, spearheaded by Angus G. Wynne, the visionary responsible for the development of Six Flags Over Texas. Jack Graham founded the firm after obtaining permission from Great Southwest Corporation to spinoff their engineering department. Graham appointed Jim Wagnon as president of the firm in 1987 and then sold Graham Associates to Wagnon that same year.
Graham Associates first started getting mentioned in newspapers a decade later, when in 1981 the firm won the contract to design Copeland Road from Randol Mill Road to Road to Six Flags. Three years after that in 1984 the Arlington City Council awarded the firm a $96,380 contract to expand the interchange on North Cooper and I-30, a sorely needed project to increase traffic flow as the roadway bottlenecked to two lanes over the highway.
Since then, the firm and the city simultaneously experienced an explosion of growth. The population has more than doubled since 1980, from a population of more than 160,000 to nearly 400,000 today. Graham Associates president and CEO Jeff Williams has had a hand in a lot of that development, first as an engineer when he joined the firm in 1984 and then later as Arlington Mayor from 2015 to 2021.
In a recent conversation with Williams about the 50th anniversary of the firm, he was eager to recognize his predecessors, both at the firm and within the city, who participated in a long lineage of collaboration.
“I want to express gratitude to our founder Jack Graham for giving us this great opportunity,” he said. “In addition, I want to express the respect and admiration for the Engineer’s Engineer, Jim Wagnon, and his great work and dedication, whom we lost in 2021.”
“Over these 50 years, there have been many great engineers and surveyors who have helped build and shape our firm. We are very grateful for them!”
As for the city itself, Williams says Arlington has been a great community to work in and call home.
“Because of the great people here in Arlington, it enabled a lot of us to succeed. Previous great leaders that did things we could build upon,” he said. “Our city is called the can-do city because we get things done. It’s the culture that’s been cultivated here since the beginning of our city’s founding.”
One of the most important projects that stands out to Williams is the Three Bridges Project over I-30, to be able to handle the influx of traffic to the Entertainment District, comprising Six Flags, Globe Life Field and Cowboys Stadium.
“Three of our senior engineers Mark Burckhard, John Lesnar and Joe Perkins worked night and day for a year for that project to be completed by 2009 when the Cowboys stadium opened,” he said. Timing was critical, especially as the city was slated to host the Super Bowl in 2011.
“It set a standard. It really helps set the design character for the city,” he said.
While engineers at the firm were trying to get the Three Bridges project completed, another design team led by Mike Peterson was working on the civil engineering for AT&T Stadium, which was also finished on time.
Despite all that growth, it’s hard not to feel like both the city of Arlington and Graham Associates are really hitting their stride. Beyond Arlington, Graham Associates under Williams’ leadership has played a significant role in city center’s and communities all across North Texas, including planning for Nebraska Furniture Mart and related development for the City of The Colony. That development necessitated approximately $100 million of infrastructure: roadways, water and sewer. Graham Associates also designed the first Divergent Diamond Interchange in Texas to accommodate the traffic generated by Nebraska Furniture Mart.
What’s next for the firm? They’re currently involved in the National Medal of Honor Museum, headquartered here in Arlington. They also have large projects in the works in Fort Worth, Mansfield, Grand Prairie and throughout North Texas. But if the last 50 years are any indication, the next 50 years will likely look like more of the same–living out their ethos as an integral building partner to people and communities across the metroplex.
Graham Associates first appeared on the “top 500 design firms” list in 1981. Since then, it’s continued to retain talent, with employees who average 20 years at the firm.
With a top-ranking College of Engineering at the University of Texas at Arlington just down the street, some longtime engineers offered their perspective on how to make a long, successful career out of engineering.
“Decide early on if you want to travel a lot or set up roots. Some companies allow you to move around or may require it while smaller firms allow you to establish roots and advance your career sometimes quicker.”
– Joe Perkins, principal, joined the firm in 2002
“The best advice I can give to aspiring engineers is you must stay passionate about the trade and strive to be a lifelong learner. The field of civil engineering is ever evolving, continuing to devote yourself to advancing your skill is the best way to develop and grow a successful career.” – Chris Conners, principal, joined the firm in 2012