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Dodging a Bullet (Train): When DART's More About the "Area" Than About "Dallas"

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The concept of regionalism is a Trojan horse designed to gut the city in favor of the 'burbs. If you ever doubted that, take a look at the very close bullet that downtown Dallas just dodged yesterday ... we hope.

For 26 years, ever since the founding of Dallas Area Rapid Transit, downtown Dallas has been waiting to get a direct rail link into Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. A month ago, DART announced it was thinking of not building a line into the airport after all. Maybe ... instead ... perhaps they just might bypass the airport and bend the line out into the high-growth suburban sprawl areas out by Southlake as a way of helping developers out there sell more houses.

Oh, right.

Just what the city should do with a quarter-century's worth of financial and political capital: help fund more sprawl and screw downtown. Crazy, right?

But it almost happened, which means it could happen again.

Make that: will happen again.

People with a stake in downtown Dallas have always assumed that DART would build its Orange Line through Irving up into the airport as soon as it had the money. Matt Ferguson, chairman of the board of the Stemmons Corridor Business Association, told me, "For years now we have been promised there would be a direct connection with Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. There has been close to $6 billion in mixed-use development that has been planned or is already constructed in anticipation of that connectivity. That's what's been promised since day one."

Imagine the shock, then, when DART revealed during the recently ended session of the Legislature that it was thinking of not going into the airport but bending the Orange Line west, into the furthermost 'burbs instead. It seemed to make no sense.

Dallas Market Center president and CEO Bill Winsor told me, "I can't imagine a city that wants to position itself as a prime destination in America routing a mass transit line outside of its airports. If you look at any major metropolitan area with the exception of Los Angeles -- Chicago, Atlanta, you pick it, New York -- mass transit was just that, a well-thought-out plan that linked predominant in-bounding terminals and gateways to the city and not doing silly things like bypassing its airports."

So why would DART even come up with such an idea? A-ha! As clear an answer as one could hope for emerged from yesterday's DART board meeting.

A DART staffer told the board that offering to go to the suburbs instead of the airport was DART's way of marketing itself to the 'burbs at a time when the Legislature was considering a vast new tax revenue bill for the agency that would have required suburban assent. The T-LOTA bill (for Texas Local Option Transportation Act) eventually failed in the recently ended session of the Legislature, in part because a few really smart legislators like Rep. Linda Harper-Brown of Irving saw it for what it was: a way to fund far-flung suburban rail lines at the expense of urban and close-in lines.

If you read The Dallas Morning News editorial page, of course, it's all about regionalism. And Regionalism is a good thing, according to The News, because it's not parochialism.

Let me tell you what regionalism is. You got a gas station. I got a gas station. You tell me, "Jim, we need to steer a lot more business away from your gas station and into my gas station, because of Regionalism." And what is my answer, assuming I have at least a low-functioning I.Q.? Skeeereeeew regionalism!

But for DART, you see, regionalism is all about DART, the agency, becoming more regional -- meaning, of course, bigger.

Steve Salin, DART vice president for rail planning, told the board yesterday that the idea of not going to the airport was a pitch for regional support. "As a part of the T-LOTA bill that was underway at the time," he said, " we wanted to make sure we did a couple of things. One is maximize our system. We wanted to make sure that as this system grows we take full advantage of all of the opportunities to make sure that as regional system we are getting the bang for the buck."

Yeah. Bang for the buck at the expense of totally shafting downtown Dallas. It didn't happen.

With the legislature closed down, thank God, at least for a while, and T-LOTA in the crapper, DART staff has backed off the don't-go-to-the-airport brilliant idea and is now recommending that we go to the airport after all. But you see how close this was?

One business leader described it to me as a near-death experience: "Once that decision not to go to the airport was ever made, there would never have been a chance to un-do it."

Keep your eyes peeled for regionalism. They say it walks by night.

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