On a roll: Transit supporters rallying in Arlington

Posted Monday, Jun. 03, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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For supporters of mass transit, Tuesday is a day to mobilize.

The Arlington City Council on Tuesday is scheduled to vote on a two-year pilot bus service connecting Arlington with the Trinity Railway Express CentrePort station.

Transit advocates, including members of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, are planning to rally at City Hall to show their support for the measure.

The topic under consideration Tuesday is relatively small. It’s a set of agreements worth $700,000 annually between the city, the University of Texas at Arlington, Dallas Area Rapid Transit and the Fort Worth Transportation Authority. If the measure is approved, buses could begin rolling between CentrePort and UT Arlington’s College Park Center on Aug. 19.

But supporters of public transportation say that, long term, this latest public transportation experiment is much bigger. It may be their best-ever — and possibly last for the foreseeable future — chance to connect their city with the region’s growing network of passenger rail lines.

“We’re trying to demonstrate that a rail system connecting Arlington to CentrePort would have riders, and they would pay for it,” said Arlington Chamber of Commerce President Wes Jurey.

The chamber, which is paying $120,000 of the annual cost, is asking its members to show up at City Hall and let elected leaders know they support the pilot project — and offset any potential backlash against the project from transit opponents.

“We know high-speed rail is coming to North Texas,” Jurey said. “The question is, where is it going to go, and what is it going to connect to?

Less vocal

Arlington voters have rejected raising sales taxes for transit three times since 1980. This time, unlike in previous years, opponents of transit haven’t been as vocal.

So far.

The opposition may be less vocal this time because people may feel powerless to stop the pilot project with DART, said Joe McHaney, an Arlington businessman and former council candidate who opposes the transit plan.

“They’ve already decided what they’re going to do,” he said.

But in the next couple of years, if a more permanent transit plan comes before Arlington voters, McHaney said there’s a good chance it will be struck down again. Many residents don’t see the value of investing the city’s tax dollars in a system that mainly benefits the university, he said.

The cost

DART requires cities that want to permanently join its ranks to dedicate a 1-cent sales tax for transportation. In Arlington, that tax rate would generate about $50 million annually for DART, city officials have said.

Right now, Arlington doesn’t even have a full cent of sales tax available. Instead, it only has a quarter-cent.

But cobbling together enough funds to eventually join DART isn’t out of the realm of possibilities, some city officials hope.

For example, a half-cent of the city’s sales tax is dedicated to paying off bond for Cowboys Stadium, and that debt could be paid off by 2019, making it available for other needs.

Tuesday’s City Council action also may include a discussion about some last-minute changes made by DART. Last week, DART’s board amended the deal with Arlington so that a local government corporation — not DART itself — could be employed to manage DART’s interests in the pilot project.

Some DART board members who opposed that amendment warned that Arlington could balk at such an arrangement. Arlington officials had previously warned that they didn’t want any of the partners in the two-year pilot project to be able to assign their responsibilities to another entity.

But Jim Parajon, Arlington’s community development and planning director, said after last week’s meeting that the Arlington council would be given time to go over the new language in the agreement and decide if they’re comfortable with it.

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796 Twitter: @gdickson

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