The Dallas City Council has unanimously signed off on its vision for DART's future priorities, and it came with a message. "We want to make sure that we as a city send a strong message to DART," City Council member Casey Thomas said. "We beat [DART President] Gary Thomas, last time; we'll continue, I think, to beat him up until he understands how important this is and how critical this is to our constituents."
The city of Dallas wants a downtown subway to ease the existing rail bottleneck, better bus service with routes that makes sense and connections between streetcar service in Oak Cliff and Uptown. Maybe then, if all of that gets done and funding can be secured, DART can think about building the Cotton Belt rail line, which would connect pieces of the northern suburbs to DFW airport.
The city council's directions to DART are a repudiation of the idea, pushed by members of DART staff, that the downtown subway and the Cotton Belt can be built at the same time. "I've reviewed DART's 20-year financial plan," City Council member Philip Kingston said of the plan in September. "It's not credible."
Building the Cotton Belt, Kingston and others against the northern rail line believe, would deplete DART's cash on hand, limiting its ability to do any other projects. The only thing keeping DART's bond rating up, Kingston said, is the agency's considerable cash stockpile.
"[DART] says 'don't worry, we've got sufficient capacity to do both projects.' Then we [the city council said] 'we really don't believe that,' [DART] came back with 'we can build half of the Cotton Belt and also D2,'" Kingston said. "None of that's true."
The city council wants D2, downtown's new rail line, to be a subway. Doing so will allow more trains per hour to move through downtown without stymieing current development along the southern edge of downtown.
At this time last year, it looked like making D2 a surface line was a done deal, but Kingston and his allies on the city council have slowly built a consensus around the alternative supported by downtown residents — who showed up en masse at Tuesday's meeting — and stakeholders.
The council's resolution in support of D2 also includes an outline of the changes it wants made to the DART's bus service. Currently DART buses run on a hub-and-spoke model. Often, wherever one might want to go, he or she will be forced to go downtown to transfer to his or her final destination. The council wants a grid system that will allow buses to run with greater frequency on routes that make sense, emulating changes that the city of Houston made last year.
"We've got to do a better job. We've got to emulate what other cities are doing," Council member Rickey Callahan said. "That's what it's all about, we want rapid transit. Let's focus on what's important to the inner-city of Dallas and downtown, what supports Dallas residents."