City Hall

The City's Head of Transportation Operations Talks About What's Next for Streetcars

Spent a little time Thursday talking to city officials about the McKinney Avenue Transit Authority's $5-mil loop through downtown. And, almost always, our conversations ended with the person on the other end saying, "You really need to talk to Keith Manoy," referring to the city's senior transportation planner and a man who can be, on occasion, difficult to reach. (Because he's busy planning transportation.) But, finally, we spoke yesterday -- not only about the time line for the trolley extension, but the other two streetcar projects in the works and how, one day (fingers crossed), they'll all tie together in a big, beautiful bow.

First, to yesterday's news: Manoy says he expects the McKinney-St. Paul-Federal-Olive loop will start construction in 2011, as "it will take a year to get it designed." But the city and Dallas Area Rapid Transit, which submitted the grant application on MATA's behalf, will begin meeting today, Manoy says, "to get it further defined and outlined in order to get the ball rolling." Manoy's on board with DART's guesstimation that it'll be done in late 2012 -- early '13, at the latest.

Meanwhile, as evidenced by a memorandum of understanding Roy Appleton posted to Scribd on Wednesday, the Methodist Hospital-Union Station line -- which will be partially funded by $23 million in federal money awarded in February -- is also moving forward ... slowly. The North Central Texas Council of Governments memo to the U.S. Department of Transportation, which provides a more detailed look at where the line will run, says groundbreaking isn't expected till July 1, 2013.

And "that's not a definitive time line," Manoy says. "Honestly, we're trying to firm up dates, to see what can be done realistically. That's what this is about, honestly -- to see what can be done realistically. We anticipate having to have this done by 2014 by the latest. That's not a given just yet. But we know that we have to actively get a schedule worked out that's approved by the feds, and we know we don't have time to sit around and wait till we get to it."

Which brings us to the downtown streetcar line ...

"We hope to have a consultant on board by September to work through that process," says Manoy. "We're doing three miles outside of downtown for the basic network, including downtown and Deep Ellum and Oak Cliff and the Cedars and Uptown -- everything surrounding the CBD. And what will be plugged into that will be the givens: the McKinney Avenue loop and the TIGER grant line that goes from Union Station into Oak Cliff."

But, please: Do not ask for a map of all this. There isn't one and won't be for a while.

"Over the years there have been different iterations achieving that goal," Manoy says when asked if there was any look-see at how all this will tie together. All that exists at present, he says, "is an older map that went from McKinney to Harwood to tie into the city center. The network plan will knit it all together, as well as identify all the lines that go from downtown into the other neighborhoods."

By which he means: He knows they want downtown streetcars to run into Deep Ellum. But should they go up Commerce, Elm or Main? That's the question the city and transpo planners are discussing at present with property owners.

"We've had conversations with property owners in Deep Ellum, and they've expressed interest in it coming down Main, and that all needs to be worked out. When we talk to folks we'll see what their desires are. They'll be a big part of this."

Other factors complicating matters: the Downtown Dallas 360 plan, due to council before year's end, and DART's having to yank its plans for a second downtown rail line due to a sales-tax revenue shortfall. MIG, spearheading Downtown 360, will ID "some corridors we should look at for transit in the grand scheme of things," he says. And the death of D2, for now, will involve some reconfiguring since "the streetcar lines we explore will interact with those [future] light-rail corridors."

In other words: Hold tight, right?

"The long and short is, honestly, in a year it'll be a whole lot clearer," Manoy says. "That planning study will be well under way. That's not going to take a terribly long time. There are only so many places you can legitimately go. There are technical reasons why you can't go in certain place, and then you have to drill down into the financial aspects: What's along the corridor that will provide the increment for financing the operations? It's a real effort in order to get it done, but some will be clearer sooner versus later.

"ideally, it would have been great if we had this planning done years ago, but we didn't know what we were going to get. You try to make the best [grant] application you can, and we've been very fortunate to get these things. Now, we have to weave it together into real projects and set up a system that's good for what it's trying to do, which is provide circulation in and around downtown."

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky