Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Downtown Dallas & Uptown Real Estate News

Downtown Dallas & Uptown Real Estate News


Tony Hartzel:DART on faster track with federal aid
09:57 AM CST on Sunday, February 12, 2006
What a difference $700 million will make.
Dallas Area Rapid Transit officials heaved a collective sigh of relief Tuesday when federal authorities announced that they'd recommend that the agency receive $700 million to help build 21 miles of light-rail lines.
The transit agency had planned for several years on receiving that amount but never could bank on it until now.
The funding pledge still must pass through Congress this spring, but little opposition is expected.
Construction could begin by early summer, and DART's 45-mile rail network would double in size by 2013.
With dozens of stations on the drawing board, possibilities abound for new ways for North Texans to travel.
When expansion is complete, DART will have new stations at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and adjacent to Dallas Love Field.
Stations in the hospital district and near Baylor will connect six major medical centers.
Fair Park and the Cotton Bowl area will have two stations. Southeast Dallas and Pleasant Grove will have a new rail connection to jobs along the DART network, which will include new stations near the Interstate 35E corridor and in the Las Colinas area.
"It links markets in an efficient and fast way," said Sean Libberton, chief of the Federal Transit Administration's analysis division.
DART initially asked for $500 million in federal funds but upped its request when it came up with better cost estimates.
The higher request trod new ground, as requests from light-rail agencies usually top out at $500 million.
But that didn't stop the agency from continually refining its figures to show that the project was worth $700 million in federal funds.
One of the keys in its refinements, DART officials said, involved something as simple as timing traffic lights. Recently, DART and the city of Dallas agreed to give full or partial priority to trains at signal lights in downtown.
Trains already have full priority at some intersections, where traffic signals stop vehicles and allow approaching trains to keep moving. Most signals could have at least partial priority, allowing train operators to extend their signal time by a few seconds, by 2007.
That agreement will shave several minutes off every rail trip, resulting in more efficient service. In turn, that is expected to attract more riders and reduce the cost per passenger.
DART originally received a "low-medium" ranking on cost-effectiveness, but was able to raise it to a "medium" ranking.
According to federal guidelines, that means DART's costs are expected to be between $14 and $21.99 per trip.
"When we got priority through downtown, it pushed us into a comfortable ranking," said Gary Thomas, DART's president and executive director.
In conjunction with the federal funding, local funds will pay for half of the cost to build 21 miles of lines from Pleasant Grove to Farmers Branch. Rail lines or extensions in Carrollton, Rowlett and Irving will be paid for with local revenue.
When 2013 rolls around and all the new rail lines are open, the attitude of many current motorists may change, Mr. Thomas said.
"Now you can get where you need to go on the train," he said.
Rail transit means different things to different people, Mr. Thomas added. To some without vehicles, it's the easiest way to get from one point to another. To those stuck on the freeway, it's about relieving road congestion. And to others, it's about improving air quality or providing the stimulus for economic development.
"This is about giving people choices," Mr. Thomas said.
Tony Hartzel can be reached at thartzel@dallasnews.com and at P.O. Box 655237, Dallas, Texas 75265.