DART Scales Back Expansion Plans in Hopes of Improving Current System, Upping Ridership

When DART last sat down to update its long-range plan in 2006, the agency was thinking big. With the recession still beyond the horizon, planners envisioned 86 additional miles of rail and 121 miles of new bus routes.

Since then, the agency has added the bus routes, opened up the Green Line (making it the longest light rail system in the world), opened the Orange Line and begun work extending the Blue Line to South Oak Cliff for good measure, all the while racking up some $3.5 billion in debt, according to the Comptroller's Office.

As huge as the expansion was, it wasn't as big as it could have been had the economy not gotten in the way. DART was forced to shelve $1 billion in rail expansion -- fully half of the 86 miles originally planned -- for lack of funding.

Now, as DART begins work on its 2035 Transportation System Plan, the agency is scaling back its ambitions. The focus now, according to a presentation delivered Tuesday to the DART Planning Committee, is on strengthening what's already in place.

That includes a focus on increasing ridership, improving pedestrian and bicycle linkages, fostering transit-oriented development and improving the speed and connectivity of the bus system. Major initiatives DART has a hand in, like the Cotton Belt and downtown streetcar expansion, are being led and largely funded by other agencies.

"The emphasis now, with our rail system close to completion, is on reviewing and improving our bus system to help both systems be successful," DART spokesman Mark Ball wrote in an email.

The 2035 plan is still in its early stages, so details are scarce. It's not clear, for example, if this represents merely a response to a starker economic picture or the beginning of a more fundamental rethink of the sprawling, hub-and-spoke system for which it has sometimes been criticized.

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