Dallas Suburbs’ Vote Could Derail $2.45 Billion Transit System
DALLAS (AP) _ A suburban referendum on the metropolitan area’s bus system could determine whether a long-delayed plan to build a light-rail mass transit system ever gets rolling.
Transit supporters fear a vote by five suburbs to withdraw from Dallas Area Rapid Transit bus service will derail a $2.45 billion plan to construct 66 miles of rail lines by 2010. The plan also calls for an 18-mile rail link connecting downtown to the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and 37 miles of bus and car pool lanes for suburban commuters.
″If this plan fails, it’s going to set Dallas back 10 to 15 years,″ said DART board member Charles Clack.
The transit authority approved the rail plan in June after six years of delays.
Critics in the suburbs of Irving, Plano, Carrollton, Rowlett and Coppell say the authority has taken too long already and that their bus service is not commensurate with the tax dollars they contribute to DART. They say widening roads and adding tollways would be cheaper than a rail system.
″There is a great mistrust of DART,″ said Pat Cotton, who has worked against the rail plan. ″People feel there have been expenditures that have not been wise.″
″Of course, we’ve always had our own cars and we like to drive up to our own spots. That kind of philosophy has been in place in Texas for years,″ Clack said.
But that philosophy creates rush-hour gridlock on Dallas freeways.
Of more than 974,000 area residents, about 150,000 ride DART buses daily. DART estimates 214,000 riders will use the transit system once it is complete.
DART spokesman Ron Whittington fears even more congested freeways if suburban bus service ends. ″You’re going to put about 20,000 more drivers back on the roads,″ he said. ″That’s scary.″
In 1983, voters approved a 1-cent sales tax to finance a $5.5 billion regional bus and rail network. A sagging economy forced the authority to scale back plans and ask voters last year to approve the issue of $1 billion in bonds to start rail construction. Voters in the 16 cities served by DART said no.
Now DART officials see the Aug. 12 suburban referendums as crucial for the area’s growth.
″This is not a vote on DART, it’s a vote on regional transportation,″ said board member Jim Jenne of Carrollton. He believes corporations won’t move to Dallas unless they’re assured of regional transit.
″Maybe we can get by without mass transit for a couple of years,″ Clack said. ″But a little down the line, we’re going to need one. You can’t just snap your fingers and have it appear. You have to start now.″