The Dallas City Council's transportation committee left no doubt Monday about what the city wants DART to do as the transit agency moves forward toward its new 20-year plan: Build a subway downtown and fix the dysfunctional bus system.
And the committee had one "don't" as well: Don't allocate a ton of money to the long-promised Cotton Belt rail line, the one that would connect areas north of Dallas to DFW Airport.
"The northern suburbs want [the Cotton Belt] because it is a straight shot to the airport from their communities," City Council member Sandy Greyson said, to a round of applause from the vocal urban advocates who'd piled into City Hall's briefing room for Monday's meeting. But the Cotton Belt wouldn't do much for the city of Dallas itself, Greyson said, and might even endanger the projects — the downtown subway line and bus redo, that need to get done.
Greyson and fellow council member Philip Kingston, long the loudest voice on the council for a subway, both worried that committing money to the Cotton Belt project would deplete DART's cash, limiting the agency's ability to move forward on new projects. Having a cash stockpile, Kingston said, was the only thing keeping DART's bond rating up. If the agency overextends itself, he said, it might find itself unable to borrow the money it needs for the long-awaited second rail line through downtown.
"I've reviewed DART's 20-year financial plan," Kingston said. "It's not credible."
Until this summer, it seemed certain that the council would agree with a DART recommendation to build the proposed second downtown rail line above ground, effectively creating two bottlenecks to rail service in the city rather than one. Urban advocacy groups like the Coalition for a New Dallas hated the idea, but it was significantly cheaper than building a subway, leaving more money, potentially, on the table for the Cotton Belt line.
Now the council has turned around almost completely. Each member of the transportation committee expressed support for a subway Monday, with only Lee Kleinman voting against the new priorities list because he still wants the Cotton Belt line to get built, too.
The committee reiterated the need to fix DART's bus service, too, before the suburbs get any more rail services, directing the agency to make routes more direct, more frequent and more accessible for those in Dallas' poorest neighborhoods.
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