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DART's Light Rail Success Drives Vigorous Expansion Program
Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) is working on major expansions that will significantly increase the reach of its light rail transit system (LRT) over the next six years.
DART began light rail service in June 1996 with an 11-mile network linking downtown Dallas with the West and South Oak Cliff sections of the city. Today it operates a 45-mile network with 35 stations extending from Plano in the north, Garland in the northeast, through downtown Dallas and on to the West and South Oak Cliff sections of the city.
When the current expansion is completed in December 2013, the system will include 91 miles of line and 63 stations. [DART website, http://www.dart.org, 2008.] (The expanded system, including current lines and branches and extensions under development, is shown in the map below.)
The new Green Line will consist of a 27.7-mile, two-segment extension of the light rail system. (See map below.)
The first Green Line extension, running southeast from Downtown Dallas to Fair Park (a major fairground and site of the annual Texas State Fair) and then on to the exurb of Pleasant Grove, is scheduled for the first stations to open in September 2009, with completion in December 2010.
Dallas's Fair Park was originally served by the city's once-extensive streetcar system, such as these cars providing good rail transit access to fairgoers in 1950.
Rail transit is returning to Fair Park.
Here, construction of the Fair Park DART LRT station is under way in September 2007.
Rendering of DART's Fair Park LRT station as it will look when completed.
The second branch of the Green Line, from Downtown Dallas northwest to the exurbs of Farmers Branch and Carrollton, will open the same year. The complete line, with both branches, is to stop in several major entertainment districts, including the Deep Ellum neighborhood, Fair Park, and Victory Station near the American Airlines Center. The Green Line will also serve regional destinations that include Baylor University Medical Center, the Dallas Market Center, Love Field (the city's close-in smaller airport), and downtown Farmers Branch. There will be a total of 20 new stations. [DART website, http://www.dart.org, 2008.]
Rendering of future Love Field DART LRT station.
According to DART's Communications Manager, Morgan Lyons, the $1.7 billion cost of the Green Line is covered and the project is on schedule. [E-mail correspondence, 23 Jan. 2008.]
DART also plans to construct a new 14-mile Orange Line, connecting downtown Dallas with North Irving, Las Colinas, and DFW International Airport (the large regional airport midway between Dallas and Ft. Worth). It will include stops at the University of Dallas and at Belt Line Road in Irving and will have seven new stations. (See map below.)
In addition, DART plans a 4.5-mile extension of the Blue Line, from its
present terminus at Garland east to Rowlett.
(See map below.)
The Dallas Morning News (6 Dec. 2007 and 8 Jan. 2008) reported that these lines were initially budgeted for $988 million, but the estimate was increased by about $900 million, an investment cost jump due to much-larger-than-expected increases in construction costs.
The total project investment cost for the Orange and Blue lines is now estimated at about $1.5 billion. [Morgan Lyons, e-mail correspondence, 24 Jan. 2008] DART's former Board Chair, Lynn Flint Shaw, writes in the DART Board Report (23 Jan. 2008) that the construction cost increase of $900 million was overestimated, and the new total estimate is about $764 million over the original projection. The agency will address the additional costs with some engineering reductions, which will not affect project safety or quality; additional revenues from private partners; refinancing of the debt; and new debt.
Shaw says that these cost increases will not affect their plans for expansion in downtown Dallas. In May 2007, DART began a comprehensive two-year Downtown Transit Study (called the D2 study), which could result in a second light rail line through the Central Business District (CBD,) as well as bus and streetcar improvements. [DART website, www.dart.org.] "In recent weeks we have also renewed our pledge to the City of Dallas to maintain the schedules for the South Oak Cliff Blue Line extension from Ledbetter Station in South Oak Cliff to I-20, as well as a second rail line in the Dallas Central Business District" writes Shaw. [DART Board Report, 23 Jan. 2008]
Various sources will contribute to funding for the projects, including the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), which has been reluctant to advance rail projects, but approved a $700-million grant that will go toward construction of the Green Line. Nearly eight years ago, in August 2000, voters in DART's 13 member cities in Dallas County authorized DART to issue up to $2.9 billion of long-term financing to upgrade and extend the LRT system, in a proposal that passed by a margin of 77% in favor, 23% opposed. The agency's AA-rated bonds are supported by a 1% sales tax collected in its member cities. Collections totaled $366 million in fiscal 2006 and are expected to reach $384.5 million in fiscal 2007, and $403 million in fiscal 2008. [The Bond Buyer, 9 Jan. 2007]
The DART light rail system has been a major success. It has encouraged extensive new development and redevelopment of several older districts. According to DART spokesman Lyons, "We've seen repurposing of many older buildings and new buildings coming on line as a result of the trains. The Deep Ellum area has a lot of new shops and residential complexes. On the northwest side, around Victory Park, they've built the American Airlines Center and W Hotel. Farther out, the Design District, Market District and Medical District have all seen a boost in development." [GlobeSt.com, Commercial Real Estate News and Property Resource, 30 Aug. 2007]
The magnitude of total development is becoming substantial. A recent study by the University of North Texas finds that the value of the current and projected development attributable to the LRT system is about $4.26 billion. [Assessment of the Potential Fiscal Impacts of Existing and Proposed Transit-Oriented Development in the Dallas Area Rapid Transit Service Area, Center for Economic Development and Research, University of North Texas, Nov. 2007] According to the study, office properties near suburban DART Rail stations increased in value 53% more than comparable properties not served by rail, and values of residential properties rose 39% more than a group of control properties not served by rail. [DART website, http://www.dart.org, 2008.] Retail developments near DART stations are projected to produce $660 million in taxable sales per year, which will generate over $41 million in sales tax income for the state and $6.6 million for local municipalities, according to the study.
The 33-acre Park Lane mixed-use development under construction adjacent to DART's Park Lane rail station will cost three-quarters of a billion dollars to complete. The high-rise complex, which is scheduled to open next month, is one of the largest such developments in the country. Tod Ruble, a co-founder of project developer Harvest Partners, told Steve Brown of the Dallas Morning News (11 Jan. 2008) that the project wouldn't be happening the way it is without the adjoining rail station. "It's already come up several times in discussions with tenants about how attractive it will be to access the project through DART" he said. "As Dallas becomes more urban and people move back into the city, more of them are willing to ride the transit."
Increasing ridership is another measure of the success of the light rail system. When it opened in 1996, the average number of weekday rides on the 11-mile system was more than 18,000 passenger-trips/day. The following year, with an expansion of the system, average daily ridership jumped to 30,000 per day. In 2007, average weekday rides were around 65,000, up from 62,000 the year before. [DART web site and Dallas Morning News, 4 Oct. 2007] "People are learning about the convenience about living and working near light rail" said Lyons. "While developers are recognizing that building near light rail substantially increases the value of properties over the long term." [GlobeSt.com, Commercial Real Estate News and Property Resource, 30 Aug. 2007]
Last fall, the Dallas Morning News (4 Oct. 2007) reported that DART added longer and more frequent trains and new parking spaces for the Red Line because of overcrowding. "The crowds are definitely a vote for mass transit" said Plano Mayor Pat Evans. "It's all the more reason to get more cities on the line and spread the cost."
A Dallas Area Rapid Transit LRT train deboards passengers at the Akard station in downtown Dallas.
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