Under Madrid With Mayor Tom, or: How a Tunnel in Spain May Hint at Dallas's Rail Future

Funny thing: Yesterday, in the comments below, longtime Friend of Unfair Park Montemalone asked this about the Dallas delegation's trade mission to Europe: "I wonder if this latest terror threat/alert/political red herring will have any effect on their trip?" Well, Monte, the mayor made a video  just for you, and it follows on the other side courtesy Mayor Tom Leppert's chief of staff Chris Heinbaugh and his iPhone.

Also on the other side, Mayor Tom talks about the lessons learned from an afternoon spent in a four-mile-long tunnel below Madrid, which Fomento Construcciones y Contratas is building to connect Spain's northern and southern high-speed rail lines. In the press release that also follows, council member Ron Natinsky is equally impressed -- and hints it may indeed be part of downtown Dallas's future as Dallas Area Rapid Transit tries to figure out how to make a go of the D2: "Drilling underground is a major, major undertaking. However, whether for our light rail or perhaps even high speed rail at some point, this is one of the options we may need to consider to handle the challenges we face over the next 10 to 25 years."

There's a lot of stuff to see on the other side (photos too!). So hurry, already.

Mayor's Delegation Also Visits Madrid Rail Construction Project

Mayor Tom Leppert says his business mission to Madrid is getting a very positive response from Spanish banks and firms interested in investing in Dallas.

"Once they understand the rapid growth, the business-friendly culture and the quality of the investment opportunities -- you can literally see the light go on," said Mayor Leppert after a second day of business meetings. "I really anticipate we will see substantial Spanish investment in the Dallas mix."

The delegation has been meeting with wealth managers at several Spanish banks - some of the largest in the world. The banks include BBVA, Citi Spain, Banco Satander and Ahorro. Mayor Leppert and City Councilmember Ron Natinsky have been promoting investment and economic development opportunities in Dallas for clients of the Spanish wealth managers.

One opportunity in particular is the City's investor visa program called City of Dallas Regional Center (CDRC). The CDRC program provides access to U.S. visas to qualified high net worth foreign nationals who make substantial investments into approved, job-creating economic development projects within Dallas.

"For many of their clients, this program offers not only a solid investment, but it also provides them with the opportunity to end up with an investor green card, which for many clearly adds tremendous value," said Leppert.

Also on the trip is state Representative Rafael Anchia. He says these visits are critical for building relationships and changing opinions about Dallas because Spanish business has traditionally viewed Miami as the gateway to the Western Hemisphere.

"That may have been true ten or twenty years ago, but that momentum has now shifted to Dallas," said Anchia. "If they want to position their companies for long term success in the United States, Central and South America -- they're understanding that now Dallas is really where they need to be."

The delegation also took time Monday to visit a major infrastructure project being drilled under the center of Madrid. The tunnel is being built by FCC, a Spanish based international construction firm. The delegation was taken by rail deep underground where the 35-foot wide tunnel is being drilled. The 4-mile long tunnel will finally link the country's northern and southern high speed rail lines underneath the city. This is one of 20 such projects FCC has around the world.

Dallas Area Rapid Transit is considering a tunnel for its second downtown Light Rail alignment. Councilmember Natinsky, who also chairs the Regional Transportation Council said this was a good look at the work that may be ahead.

"Drilling underground is a major, major undertaking," said Natinsky. "However, whether for our light rail or perhaps even high speed rail at some point, this is one of the options we may need to consider to handle the challenges we face over the next 10 to 25 years."

While tunneling is considered an expensive option, Mayor Leppert said he was surprised to discover that FCC's rail projects are costing far less than comparable projects in Dallas. "It's clear we're going to have to be creative in dealing with transportation issues in our region and around the state," said Leppert. "This was one example of it and hopefully there are other lessons we're going to learn that is going to make the situation back at home more palatable in years to come. "

The delegation's visit to Madrid will also include a formal signing ceremony for a unique three-year partnership between the Prado Museum in Madrid and the Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University. The agreement includes the loan of major paintings and a exchange program between the two museums. Pentecost, a major El Greco painting is currently on loan to the Meadows Museum.

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