Fort Worth T swears in new board - TexRail is goal, mayor says

Posted Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The Fort Worth Transportation Authority swore in its all-new board Wednesday, and Mayor Betsy Price told the directors the city is at a “critical crossroads” with commuter rail.

“Do we make commuter rail happen, or do we let it go?” she said during a joint meeting of the board and City Council.

Price, as expected, told The T its focus should be on bringing the TexRail commuter rail line to D/FW Airport by 2016, comparing the potential of rail in the fast-growing, traffic-congested region to the role DFW Airport played in North Texas’ expansion.

She said the City Council wants the board to bring in a senior rail executive to either lead The T or “to supplement the current team,” headed by President Dick Ruddell.

The T must secure track rights from other railroads, help move the region toward a uniform commuter rail vehicle, hire out a performance audit by April this year, engage the public on TexRail, and communicate with the city, Price said in her remarks.

The City Council, complaining of delays in TexRail and of the organization’s communication with the city, replaced all eight of its appointees to the nine-member board.

Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, who has the ninth appointee, named Sylvia Cervantes of Richland Hills, a former member of the city’s economic development advisory board. The T serves Richland Hills with bus service, and the county’s board appointee typically comes from the city.

Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns said The T’s public engagement on TexRail should include aggressive “two-way communication” between The T and neighborhoods.

“I think it’s critical,” said Burns, who represents Fort Worth’s South Side, where controversy erupted last year over the placement of TexRail’s Medical District station.

Rob Harmon, The T’s chief financial officer, told the new board and City Council the T continues to make progress toward sealing up right of way agreements for TexRail.

Gary Cumbie, the outgoing T board chairman, said in an interview earlier this week he felt Price was guilty of “hypocrisy, as far as I’m concerned,” calling The T out over progress in the right of way negotiations.

The T staff has led most of the talks, and “the mayor and others know these deals are moving along,” he said. “These deals are going to get done, regardless” of the change in the board.

Cumbie also noted the mayor and Councilman Jungus Jordan took over a particularly sensitive set of negotiations with one railroad last summer. Those negotiations haven’t resulted in a deal yet.

“In the world of politics, there’s no humility whatsoever,” Cumbie said.

Price, during her remarks to the board Wednesday, said the previous board had done a good job.

In an interview after the meeting, she reiterated, “Nobody is blaming anyone. We’re just looking for an increased focus on the project.”

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