Editorial: Opening the T board to Grapevine inclusion shows forward thinking

Posted Tuesday, May. 21, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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A bill awaiting Gov. Rick Perry’s signature might not sound like a train whistle, but it’s mighty important to rail in North Texas.

Local promoters of mass transit see House Bill 2536 as immediately enabling fairer representation on the Fort Worth Transportation Authority board while preparing for a future that may include a true regional transportation system with light rail as a major component.

Fort Worth’s transit system, known as the T, is governed by a nine-member board, eight of them appointed by the City Council. The final member is named by the Tarrant County Commissioners Court, picked from unincorporated areas or a city such as Richland Hills that commits a half-cent sales tax (about $800,000 a year) to transit service.

HB2536 would allow commissioners to choose a board member from cities that contract for services without necessarily dedicating a half-cent sales tax. Grapevine, which has contracted for inclusion in the 37-mile TEX Rail project, specifically fits that bill. That city has contributed $50 million to the commuter rail line that’s planned to run from southwest Fort Worth to the north end of DFW Airport.

Under the legislation, commissioners could also appoint someone from Blue Mound, which contracts with the T for Mobility Impaired Transportation Service.

Fort Worth Councilman Jungus Jordan, the city’s guru on public transit, told the Star-Telegram Editorial Board that the legislation mirrors the law governing the Dallas Area Rapid Transit Authority and includes a provision that would allow elected officials to be appointed to the T board without pay. The DFW Airport board also allows elected officials, he said.

With county commissioners having only one appointee, choosing which city gets represented could prove politically tricky. That will be one of the growing pains as the western half of the Metroplex tries to build a viable public rail transit system.

Jordan said the board could expand eventually as more member cities are added. But the real goal is to be in a position for two developed rail systems — in Tarrant and Dallas counties — to evolve into a single entity as equal partners when the time comes.

Many things will have to fall into place before then, including more federal funding and additional member cities. Forward thinking is important, but in the meantime, the TEX Rail project and a long-range master rail plan have to stay on track.

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