Written by Phil Cerroni
By Phil Cerroni
The long years of traffic and construction have finally begun to pay off for the Dallas area in recent months with the completion of Phase I of the DART's Orange Line and the continuing work on the Diamond Interchange, a massive transit center for SH 114, LP 12, 183 and the Orange line around the former site of Jerry Jones' Texas Stadium. This marks the first time Texas has seen a highway and light rail system share a right-of-way, a sign that the Dallas – Forth Worth area is beginning to have the population density of major East Coast cities.
To celebrate this, a battery of transportation and elected officials, including Phil Wilson, the Executive Director of TxDOT and State Representative Linda Harper-Brown, assembled at the ribbon cutting ceremony held at the University of Dallas on Oct.31.
Although the DART corridor will not be extended to the airport until 2014, the speakers were quick to praise the immediate advantages the Orange Line brings.
CEO of DFW Airport, Jeff Fegan, enumerated on the transportation and development changes the new system brings.
“There's a concept called aerotropolis that development around the airport radiates out in a variety of different ways, but it's typically along ribbons of transportation whether it be highway or transit, and I think you may find some development patterns change as a result,” Fegan said.
“When I look at DFW airport, we have a lot of control over things like the airfield capacity, terminal capacity, the roadway within the airport capacity, but we really don't have a lot of control what happens off the airport. I'm just really happy that DART has stepped up, the T is working on a similar type project from the west, TxDot is working on the DFW Connector on the north end of the airport. Seven years from now all the capacities will kind of align. It's good news for us as a region, good news for us as an airport.”
Another notable advantage is the creation of a transit system that is fully integrated.
“Heavy or commuter rail is the term we use for quarters like the Trinity Rail Express. It costs approximately $25 million a mile to build. Light rail, which the Orange line is an example of, ranges between $60 and $80 million a mile,” said John Danish, Chairman of the DART Board of Directors. “Heavy rail tends to move from platform station to platform station. You don't have quite the concept of rolling into an urban plaza like you do in the Las Colinas Urban Plaza, and all the pedestrian ability to move in and around it.”
An integrated urban center and the lifestyle it engenders is also something that a growing number of young people are finding greater affinity with. Representative Harper-Brown pointed out that just a few years ago, 95 percent of people surveyed said they wanted to live out in the suburbs. The survey was recently conducted again, and it was split 50/50 between residing in the suburbs and living a relatively automotive-free life in an urban environment.
“Making that connection with young people is especially important to us in the transit industry. The generation that is coming of age is attracted to urban living and to public transit in a way that people haven't seen since World War II,” Danish said. “This up and coming generation, between and 85 and 90 million people strong, are enrolled in college at a higher rate than any previous generation. Many of these young people are not taking on the hassle and expense of owning a car. Think of it, if you're 20 years old, working your way through college, why would you want to spend [that money], wouldn't you rather spend that on your education and making it through debt free?”
It was for that reason the ceremony was held at the University of Dallas. Although it is a small university, it acts as base camp for hundreds of students as they explore the Metroplex every year.
“The University of Dallas has the highest percentage of out of state students of any university in the state of Texas,” said university president Thomas Keefe as he elaborated on some of the benefits that the University of Dallas Station will afford to both the institution and its students. “Fifty-eight percent of our students come from outside the state of Texas. We also have a significant international population especially in our MBA program.
“Access to DFW via the DART line will make it incredibly convenient – most freshmen do not have the luxury of having an automobile on campus, which is a blessing for all of us, but allowing them to connect with the greater Metropolitan area is huge. One of the things we did this year, when the DART station opened in July, we negotiated an agreement with DART for $20 a student could buy an unlimited pass on DART per semester.”
Danish explained that the benefits of a light rail station came at some expense to the city of Irving.
“It's been a wise choice for the investment of the people of Irving to stay the course with transit,” Danish said. “You might remember the summer of '96 when we had to choose between a big stadium or transit system. In the end, the big stadium went to the suburb next door called Arlington. The TV set in that Taj Mahal of a stadium costs more than the original Texas Stadium cost to build in Irving. So it's a value of your resources and how you invest them and what they reap in the future.”
Despite the cost, Danish is very excited about the new adventure the entire region, is embarking on.
“I hope that as people begin to see a truly multi-modal system of highways, trains and airplanes they begin to understand why that is a healthier, safer America. One corridor of rail can move the equivalent of eighteen freeways and the fuel cost of moving the amount of weight through that corridor,” Danish continued. “America got too dependent on the airplane and the automobile and did not continue the passenger rail. Now we're going to hopefully get back into the development of passenger rail across America similar to what President Eisenhower did with the development of the interstate highway system. My dream is that here in North Texas we are setting the model for a future, healthier, balanced transit system, which I hope the rest of the state could follow.”