Written by Phil Cerroni
Dear Mayor, Council Members and Citizens of Irving:
As the chairman and your representative on the DART Board of Directors, I am pleased to report to you the state of the agency, particularly as it relates to Irving.
If ever there were a watershed year in the DART-Irving relationship, 2012 was it. The arrival of the Orange Line in Irving culminated 12 years of land-use planning by DART, the city of Irving, the Las Colinas Association and the Dallas County Utilities Reclamation District.
The first two Orange Line segments opened on schedule: on July 30 to the University of Dallas, Las Colinas Urban Center and the Irving Convention Center; and on Dec. 3 to North Lake College and Belt Line Road. For thousands of employees who commute in and out of Irving daily, the Orange Line offers fresh alternatives to driving. But it connects to more than jobs – it’s Irving’s new link to educational institutions, medical services, entertainment venues and more.
When the much-anticipated third segment of the 14-mile, $1.3 billion line opens in December 2014, Irving will have a direct rail connection to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport – and, by extension, to the world. DART will be one of the few transit properties in the nation with direct rail service to and from a major airport. That final piece of the Orange Line is being built as we speak.
Also on Dec. 3, DART opened a 4.5-mile extension of the Blue Line east to Rowlett. DART has built more than 40 miles of track in the last three years alone. At 85 miles, DART Rail now is the largest electric light rail system in the nation.
While the arrival of rail service is certainly a game-changer, buses have always been the backbone of our system. Currently, DART is undertaking a $248 million, full-scale fleet replacement. We have purchased 120 small, agile buses and placed an order for 542 larger buses, which already are beginning to arrive. All are environmentally friendly, powered by compressed natural gas.
DART also strove during 2012 to identify new revenue streams. In March, we implemented Fair Share Parking at two end-of-the-line stations, and at a new park-and-ride bus facility a few months later. We extended the program to Belt Line Station when it opened in December. In addition to regular parking, that station offers long-term parking for riders who are headed to the airport.
Also in Irving, DART is continuing to plan with the city to implement new bus shelters near the corner of Nursery Road and Irving Boulevard. These are not only state-of-the-art shelters featuring solar-powered heating and other amenities; they are a pilot project to explore the viability of advertising at DART’s bus facilities. If the program succeeds, we will roll it out throughout the service area.
Some other highlights of 2012 include:
In August, the Board selected Dallas attorney Scott Carlson as the agency’s new general counsel. Scott had been Dallas’ appointee to the DART Board since 2003. He served on a number of board committees and chaired the planning committee. He joins DART from the law firm of Cavazos, Hendricks, Poirot & Smitham, where he served as senior counsel.
In October, DART awarded a new paratransit services contract to MV Transportation, and adopted a new service delivery model in the same stroke. Paratransit now uses multiple vehicle types: MV Transportation’s own fleet, outsourced taxis, as well as leasing some of DART’s paratransit vans until MV’s fleet of larger vans are delivered. As a result, the service is more flexible. The agency expects to realize $90 million in savings over the course of the seven-year contract.
DART’s sales tax revenues were $432.5 million, 2.4 percent better than target, and total revenues reached $720.1 million. The agency’s total subsidy per passenger was 6.7 percent better than target, and sales tax allocated to operating expenses came in 3.5 percent better than target.
Fixed-route ridership is up: The DART Board set a target of 65.9 million passenger trips, and DART exceeded that goal by 2.7 million, or about 4 percent. That’s an 11 percent increase over FY11 reported ridership, and includes a change in light rail counting from manual counts to the use of more accurate, FTA-approved, automated passenger counters. While total system ridership was down by 6.2 percent from FY 2011 – clocking in at 104.9 million passenger trips – that decline is largely attributable to the closing of HOV lanes on LBJ Freeway early in the year.
DART has continued to look for innovative ways to address the demand for public transit beyond our service borders. In March, we began providing express bus service to Mesquite on a contract basis. The program is still under evaluation, but it could offer a template for similar services to other area cities.
To better leverage our resources as a region, DART, the Fort Worth T and the Denton County Transportation Authority have entered into a Tri-Party Passenger Rail Alliance. I believe that this alliance is potentially the next major step in a new era of passenger rail transit for the North Texas region – an area that extends across 16 counties. Our combined leverage could translate to increased purchasing power of vehicles and rights of way, the moxie to develop bigger projects than ever before, and the credibility that comes from presenting a united front in Austin.
With the three agencies joining forces, we can ensure that the process of getting passenger rail projects up and running is streamlined and backed by a strong advocacy coalition. Chief among these potential projects is the Cotton Belt corridor, which extends from DART’s Red Line in the Plano-Richardson area through North Dallas, Addison and downtown Carrollton, on to DFW Airport – and beyond to Fort Worth.
The Cotton Belt is not funded in DART’s 20-Year Financial Plan. But the Regional Transportation Council (RTC) of the North Central Texas Council of Governments is exploring innovative financing options – most likely a public-private partnership that would be the first of its kind in Texas. What role DART, The T and DCTA will play remains to be seen, but the Tri-Party Passenger Rail Alliance gives our agencies a strong, collective voice. The RTC’s findings and recommendations are expected in the coming months.
How we approach the Cotton Belt could set the stage for other similar initiatives in the future. I envision the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Line eventually being developed for passenger rail. It would extend from Irving’s Heritage Crossing to Downtown Carrollton – and ultimately, it could reach the bustling city of Frisco and even the Red River.
I believe that Irving is on the path to a new way of life. The DART System is rapidly maturing; in 2012, we celebrated our 250 millionth light rail passenger. The agency now turns its attention to operating one of the most robust multimodal transit systems in North America. Irving is deeply invested in the DART project, and we are poised to reap abundant dividends.
If you have questions or suggestions at any time, please feel free to contact me at 972.554.0500.
Yours Very Truly,
John C. Danish
Chairman, DART Board of Directors (Irving)