Downtown Dallas Rail Skirmish Likely Over Before It Got Started

The battle over the placement of DART"s second rail line through downtown doesn't seem like it's going to happen. At a meeting last week of the Greater Dallas Planning Council and Urban Land Institute, DART indicated that it was wholeheartedly behind some version of the Young Street alignment for the long awaited reliever for downtown's Pacific Avenue rail line.

Of the 10 or so choices that have been bandied about for months, the Young Street route was the only one presented by DART CEO Gary Thomas. DART wants it because, the agency says, it will be cheaper to build that many of the other original choices and will provide a greater diversity of service than the Commerce Street subway supported by much of the Dallas new urbanist crowd.

Until a couple of weeks ago, the Young Street alignment was especially controversial because building it would require knocking down Dallas First Presbyterian Churches' parking garage and possibly some Farmers' Market town homes. On August 10, DART debuted a new rail plan that has trains detouring off Young Street for Jackson Street, bypassing the garage, homes and restaurant.
While the alternative plan that doesn't blow up most of Farmers' Market is ostensibly the one that DART supports the most, Thomas, as he has in the past, refused to rule out taking any homes or businesses when pressed by Dallas City Council member Adam Medrano, according to people at the meeting.

"There's the micro level concerns of the adjacent owners and there is the macro interest of the North Texas community," Thomas said.

Medrano's District 2 includes the Farmers' Market. Philip Kingston, who represents District 14 and splits downtown with Medrano, was angry when asked about DART's seemingly having its mind made up.

"It's hard to have a debate when DART rolls out a bunch of numbers, doesn't show it's work, and suddenly [the Young Street alignment] is the only one that makes any sense," Kingston says. "It's too hard to believe. This is staff driving policy. There's just a basically meaningless oversight from the policy makers on this because — if they're going to roll out that data — then they just say 'if you aren't with us then you're dooming the project to 20 years in purgatory or the feds will never fund it. Every time, there's some crazy absolute. I just don't believe it, it's not credible."

DART says it wants to get going quickly because doing so will give the agency an advantage in applying for a federal grant it wants to help fund the project. To have its best shot at the money, DART needs to submit a proposal by the end of next month. 

Kingston says DART's being shortsighted.

"[Voting to build the rail line along Young Street] undoes 20 years of Dallas economic development priorities. We have dedicated all of TIF money to the Main/Elm/Commerce corridor longer than I've lived here for the specific purpose of revitalizing that corridor and eliminating vacancy. The meeting that we had today was at Thanksgiving Tower, a building that has something like 40 or 50 percent vacancy," Kingston. "The development opportunity is to run a truly urban design, namely a subway under Commerce so that you don't impede the development you're trying to promote."

There's little chance the City Council will do anything to slow down DART's preferred rail path, Kingston said.

"I would love to be more optimistic about this," he said, "but I've just seen the game too many times."

DART D2 Presentation

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young