DART's Point Man on Streetcars Talks About Runnin' MATA Track Into Downtown

In the comments to yesterday's item about stumbling upon those streetcars in the Dallas Area Rapid Transit's rail yards, a few Friends of Unfair Park got to wonderin' about McKinney Avenue Transit Authority's plans for a downtown extension. Which, turns out, was also on the o' my mind after having taken my very first trolley trip (I know -- the shame) just a few days ago from S&D Oyster Company to the Dallas Museum of Art on the 101-year-old Rosie.

Long story short: Long time ago the city got a federal grant, through the Texas Department of Transportation, to expand the MATA trolley line -- which it did, north, through the West Village. But the city never got around to the southbound extension, and TxDOT said, Use it or lose it. And so a southbound extension into downtown was planned for Olive Street, and MATA had been hoping to get it running by early 2009. Which didn't happen, mainly because DART and Dallas wanted to make sure that when the downtown streetcars rolled up they'd fit on the tracks laid for the older cars in the MATA stock.

"The goals are simple," says Jay Kline, DART's liaison with the city on streetcars. "Get it built to modern streetcar standards so if and when we have a modern system, we can put a modern vehicle on there without redoing it. And we want to get as close as we can do a downtown light rail station."

Turns out, MATA's expansion into downtown isn't too far off. Not at all.

Right now the MATA line goes no further than the DMA on St Paul. But the idea is get a line on Olive Street as well -- one that would, of course, go against traffic. Says Kline, that's 100-percent designed. Requests for proposals are out, and all goes according to plan, a contract should be awarded by no later than August -- depending upon how comfy the utilities providers are with the expansion.

As for the downtown streetcars, well, that's a little further in the distance. Remember: DART's got no money to do much of anything, and neither does the city.

"We're trying to use our talents efficiently and effectively to not only look at what would make sense as a productive streetcar system -- on DART's side, integrating with the existing system, including light rail and bus; and on the city's side, what will it pay back in terms of economic development and livability and sustainability," Kline says. "We're about to start working on a system plan on a streetcar system. And we've gotta figure out how to pay for this. So we're looking at how do we pay for capital and operating costs. We don't have the money. The city doesn't. They do have a little bit of seed money from regional grant and federal grants."

Then there's the urban circulator grant for which the city has applied.

"If we are awarded that project, the MATA line would go to Olive Street and make it a complete loop from -- we think -- St. Paul to Federal to Olive," Kline says. "It wouldn't cost a heck of a lot of money, and it would make both MATA and and modern operations much more efficient and safe because there wouldn't be contraflow."

Alas, no go so far on putting in a turntable for the trolleys: It's sitting in a field near the Cityplace Station, awaiting a downtown home. Patience, people. Patience.

Incidentally, as I mention in the comments, I called Kline after trying for a few days to reach MATA officials. Soon as I hear from them I will update accordingly, most likely in a separate post.

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