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Deep Ellum Doesn't Dig D2

Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s proposed new rail line through downtown has been met with plenty of controversy. Some in Deep Ellum, though, feel they haven’t been given the same say as property owners downtown in the path of the line called D2.

On Monday night, community organizations put on the neighborhood's first public meeting about D2. The Deep Ellum Foundation and Deep Ellum Community Association aimed to educate their community about how the project will affect Deep Ellum.

As of now, the proposed D2 alignment will include a surface line along Good-Latimer Expressway in Deep Ellum, connecting to the existing Green Line. Community members are calling for the line to go underground.

“This is us saying it’s time for us to fight for Deep Ellum and defend our neighborhood so we can make sure we’re taken seriously,” said Jessica Burnham, executive director of Deep Ellum Foundation, at the meeting Monday night, which was held at The Bomb Factory. “They haven't taken us seriously. They have done a bunch of big meetings, but they don't even put Deep Ellum on the map. They ended at Farmer’s Market and they haven't taken Deep Ellum seriously or done their due diligence.”

The proposed line would cause “disastrous consequences” for the neighborhood, adding even more traffic to the already congested intersections at Main, Elm and Commerce streets along Good-Latimer, Burnham said.

The panel was made up of Patrick Kennedy, an expert on walkability and transportation (who recently wrote a column for D Magazine on why D2 should be a subway); John Tatum, an original DART board member and property owner in Deep Ellum; and Rachel Triska, president of the Deep Ellum Community Association and executive director of Life in Deep Ellum. Matt Tranchin, of Coalition for a New Dallas, was the moderator.

Deep Ellum Foundation had reached out to DART to be part of the panel, but they “respectively declined,” Burnham said.

The biggest reason why D2 is primarily a surface line rather than subway (it’s about 22 percent subway with the current plan) is that going underground would be too expensive, DART has claimed.

However, that kind of money is available.  DART staff presented its 25-year financial plan to the DART board last week. Over the next five years, DART announced that they would be taking out $1.4 billion in low-interest, long-term debt. $325 million of that was going to be put toward D2. $995 million was going toward the Cotton Belt commuter rail, a 26-mile route from Addison to DFW.

DART has applied for a grant from the Federal Transit Administration, asking the federal government for $325 million (50 percent of the planned cost of D2), but could be asking for a grant up to 80 percent of that cost. 

"The challenge we now face is ... do we do what's more expedient as it relates to the priority of DART, or do we actually invest our resources into what everyone agrees is the best solution, but a lot of people fear we don't have the money to do?" Tranchin asked.

“The problem is that every single proposal so far seems to have fatal flaws whereas the flaw of the subway route is that it costs more,” Kennedy said. “We think that flaw is solvable. It’s just a matter of political will to spend the money to do it right the first time. … The longer term policy question is can we afford not to have the subway?”

Triska suspects DART is pushing the project forward without taking the time to study how D2 would affect the neighbhorhood. DART has yet to start the traffic analysis of how D2 would impact Deep Ellum. They have plans to start in January 2017, but Dallas City Council will vote on the final plan in the fall.

“[Burnham] asked them to walk the line with her, and until then they had not even come out to see the line physically. They said, ‘These were just lines on a piece of paper to us.’ These are not lines on a piece of paper to us. This is our neighborhood, our investments. This is our home."

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The locally preferred alternative that City Council approved last September is no longer feasible because Jackson Street downtown is too narrow for a light rail train.

“The width of Jackson has been that way for at least 65 years,” Tranchin said. “We only learned a couple weeks ago that DART officially made that known to the board. DART has to go back to the City Council and board and get them both to vote on a new alignment. So, we have another shot at this.”

He called for people to attend the DART board meeting next Tuesday. Despite their frustrations, the panel members emphasized that this is not an attack on DART.

“We’re not anti-DART,” Tranchin said. “DART needs the resources to continue building great projects that can add value to the city of Dallas, but we need to show them that they have the political will to do what’s in the best interest for everyone.”

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