City's Chief Transpo Planner Talks Streetcars and Why First Downtown to Oak Cliff Line Is "Critical Spine" Of System of the Future

Dallas's first new streetcar line will run from Union Station to near Methodist Hospital in Oak Cliff. At least, that's the plan at present.
Dallas's first new streetcar line will run from Union Station to near Methodist Hospital in Oak Cliff. At least, that's the plan at present.

I've been playing phone tag with Keith Manoy, the city's senior transportation planner and the point man for all things streetcar. It's understandable. He's been a little busy.

"We're not in the streetcar business," Manoy says this morning. "But we're learning." He's doing his best to play catch-up. Not a lot of time for small talk with a reporter. He's also got a lot going on -- like getting maps and exhibits ready for Thursday night's town hall at Methodist Hospital. And he knows what's coming from that crowd. He knows people are going to ask why the initial line, funded in large part by $23 million in federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery funds, does not run all the way from Union Station to Methodist, as originally announced.

"Our expectation was [it would run all the way to] Methodist, but the reality is the money isn't there," he says. "Not that we've given up on finding additional funds, but you have to work with what you have in hand, especially as you report to funding agencies. What you don't want to do is define a project you can't deliver. But honestly, a lot of people think we shouldn't be doing it because it's not going to Bishop Arts, and I get that. But the reality is we have the money we have, and for me this is a really important link. It's a huge win. I personally hope people are excited. But I know some people think it's not going far enough."

Time is also a factor: The feds want that initial downtown Dallas-to-Oak Cliff line to begin revenue service by no later than December 2013. He says that the engineering work -- surveys, an environmental impact study -- has already begin. And, he says, there's still the slim chance it'll reach Methodist. But Manoy likes to refer to this initial phase as "the critical spine" of the larger streetcar system the city, Dallas Area Rapid Transit and the North Central Texas Council of Governments expect to take root in coming year.

"The idea is to get as close to Methodist as possible, but with $35 million, which is what we currently have, we won't get quite there," he says. "But, remember: That's a conceptual design. Once we get 10 percent of real engineering done, they'll know how close we can actually get to Beckley from where we are."

As we mentioned yesterday, this afternoon DART's expected to sign a contract with HDR Engineering to perform the Dallas Streetcar System Planning Study, of which the downtown-to-OC line is but a small piece.

"This link, from Union Station across the bridge, will be plugged into the system plan," he says. "But the system plan looks at the larger efforts within a three-mile range to connect downtown to the surrounding neighborhoods -- Deep Ellum, Victory, the Cedars, Oak Cliff and so on."

That study, he says, should take about a year, give or take. And during that time, the downtown-to-OC line will inch from concept to reality. And during those months, Manoy pleads for patience.

"Everybody knows this particular project isn't sexy," he says of the initial line. "Some people think it looks silly. But it's the most critical effort to link downtown to Oak Cliff, and it'll be the hardest to fund since it goes over the [Houston Street] bridge. But the fact the feds were willing to fund it is a huge win, and we want to extend it, which is where the system plan comes in. It'll say: Are we gong down Bishop? Zang? To Jefferson? It'll fill in the gaps. But, like I say, this is a huge win. And I'm excited. I hope other people are too."

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