ARLINGTON — Officials say they’re still hopeful that they can get the city’s new bus service up and running by Aug. 19 even though the Dallas Area Rapid Transit board approved last-minute contract language that some say could delay the deal.On Tuesday night, the DART board approved a proposal to run buses from the Trinity Railway Express’ CentrePort Station to the University of Texas at Arlington’s College Park Center. It’s part of a two-year pilot project that could lead to Arlington voters being asked to make a permanent investment in public transportation.But approval required Arlington to agree to an amendment allowing DART to assign its responsibility in the project to a local government corporation. The creation of such a corporation is considered an accounting move, designed to help DART keep the pilot project separate from the rest of its operations, and DART officials consider it routine.The last-minute change, however, could be a problem for Arlington officials, who did not want any parties in the agreement to be able to assign their responsibilities elsewhere, said some board members who opposed the move.After the DART meeting, Jim Parajon, Arlington’s community development and planning director, said the matter will be presented to the City Council on Tuesday. Asked whether the service would start on time, he said: “Good question.”Early in the discussions about a possible pilot project, DART officials had mentioned their interest in using a local government corporation, an arrangement similar to the one it has with Mesquite for its bus services, Parajon said.“But that was several months ago,” he said.Until Tuesday night, he said, “We’ve been working on signing an agreement with DART and the T directly.”At least two board members protested, noting that contracts with Arlington and the Fort Worth Transportation Authority have already been printed and that changing the language could cause delays.Richard Carrizales of Dallas said the last-minute language was unfair to DART’s prospective partners in the region.“We’re picking and choosing when to use this policy,” he said.Gary Slagel of Richardson also opposed the change.But board member Mark Enoch of Rowlett said DART was simply reinstating language in the contract that had been stricken by Arlington.Ultimately, the measure was approved 8-0, with two abstentions — by Carrizales and fellow board member Robert Strauss of Dallas.If Arlington and the T approve the agreement by June 18, the Aug. 19 startup remains possible, Enoch said.“We’re willing to go ahead and start the design without a contract because this board wants to do the deal,” Enoch said.Transit buzzBuses would run weekdays from CentrePort to UT Arlington, possibly with another stop in between, according to the agreement.Arlington would pay half the $700,000 annual contract. UT Arlington and the local business community would pitch in the other half.Up to 600 riders each week are expected to ride the buses, which will have exterior “wraps” giving them a unique color scheme and an Arlington identity.Riders would pay a $5 fare, which would include access to the TRE.Although Arlington isn’t committed to funding the project beyond 24 months, transit supporters hope the experiment creates enough buzz about public transportation that the city’s residents will make a permanent investment.Arlington voters have rejected raising a sales tax for transit three times.DART member cities pay a 1-cent sales tax for membership. For their money, they get bus and rail connections, high-occupancy-vehicle lanes and services for people with disabilities.The Arlington pilot project hasn’t been unanimously supported by DART board members, some of whom say they want city officials to express a desire for permanent service before getting the benefits of a temporary arrangement.Cotton Belt agreementIn other action Tuesday, the board approved an agreement with the T for the use of DART’s Cotton Belt Line as part of the TEX Rail project.Under the deal, the T would pay roughly $18.5 million for the rights to the tracks, according to a DART staff report. In exchange, the T has agreed to sell its undivided half-interest in three Dallas County properties that have been jointly owned by DART and the T for several years.One of the properties is a 4.8-mile rail line along the Madill corridor, leading from the TRE corridor in south Irving through Carrollton — an area where DART would like to extend passenger rail.The other two properties are next to Valley View Lane and Rock Island Road in Irving.The T’s lease of the Cotton Belt tracks is for 44 years, with an option for 35 more. The T also agreed to pay for a railroad bridge over Texas 114/121 in Grapevine to make room for extension of the passenger rail service.The T is negotiating with the Fort Worth & Western Railroad and Union Pacific Railroad for the use of tracks on the TEX Rail line, a proposed 40-mile commuter rail line from southwest Fort Worth to TCU, downtown, the Stockyards, Grapevine and the north end of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.T officials hope to open TEX Rail by 2016, although the project must first qualify for federal new-start funds.
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796 Twitter: @gdickson