Transportation agency head pledges to work with new board

Posted Friday, Feb. 08, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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FORT WORTH -- The T President Dick Ruddell made his first public appearance Friday since the City Council replaced eight of his nine board members, pledging to work with the new leadership on speeding up the TEX Rail commuter rail project.

"Sometimes change is necessary to embrace big projects and accomplish goals," Ruddell said during a half-hour presentation to the Rotary Club of Fort Worth. "I stand ready to help this community in any way I can."

Four of the eight new board members joined Ruddell for the luncheon at the downtown Fort Worth Club but didn't speak publicly.

One of them, Andre McEwing of southeast Fort Worth, said the city was entering a new era that featured strong political support for improved public transportation. With that mandate, and some elbow grease, he said, the new board should be able to get the proposed TEX Rail commuter line from southwest Fort Worth to Grapevine and Dallas/Fort Worth Airport back on track.

Last week, Mayor Betsy Price and the council announced they would replace the T board and ask the new board to hire a T executive with rail experience.

"It's not a matter of trust," McEwing said. "It's bringing new thoughts and processes to the board."

Ruddell, who has served as the T's chief executive since 2003, gave a presentation to the Rotary Club explaining the Fort Worth Transportation Authority's role in providing mass transit in Fort Worth and Richland Hills. The services include buses, bike sharing and the Trinity Railway Express, which operates in a partnership with Dallas Area Rapid Transit.

But most of the presentation focused on TEX Rail, a project that is expected to cost nearly $1 billion. T officials hope to begin TEX Rail service by 2016 between downtown Fort Worth and DFW Airport, but the project has experienced many delays related to station locations, a federal environmental study and the T's negotiations with freight railroads to use their tracks.

Ruddell took a few questions from the crowd.

Craig Schaefer, associate executive director of the National Cowgirl Museum in Fort Worth, said the area's transportation planners need to expand their services to include areas currently not served. He questioned whether the T and DART should remain separate agencies, or perhaps be combined.

"It seems to me this area is much bigger than Fort Worth, and to accomplish all these issues we need more than the Fort Worth Transportation Authority," he said. "We need a regional transportation authority."

Ruddell explained that the T operates on a half-cent sales tax, but many cities not served by the T can't raise their sales taxes to join. Fort Worth and Richland Hills pay a half-cent to the T, and Grapevine pays three-eighths cent. But in the Dallas area, people in DART's service area pay a 1-cent sales tax.

The discrepancy among cities collecting various sales tax amounts for transportation -- including Arlington and dozens of other cities in Tarrant County, that have no transit sales tax -- makes it difficult to plan a region-wide system with a consistent service level.

Ruddell said he could envision a day when one agency governed mass transit in all of North Texas, though he said he doesn't think it will happen for many years.

Gordon Dickson,

817-390-7796

Twitter: @gdickson

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