FORT WORTH — The Fort Worth Transportation Authority and its new board are “moving as fast as humanly possible” to catch the system up to the sprawling region’s growth, Chairman Scott Mahaffey said Tuesday during a joint meeting with the City Council.But the area will have to consider other means of moving people and “alternate” funding sources, Mahaffey said.Mayor Betsy Price commended the new directors Tuesday. She and the City Council turned the entire T board over six months ago to refocus it on passenger rail.“You’ve thought outside the box and done a great job with that,” Price said.Mahaffey, owner of an industrial pipe and valve company, said the county needs “to be thinking in terms of 10 to 15 years of having a quasi-built-out [passenger rail] system that gets people across the county.”The long-delayed TexRail, whose initial focus the T board recently narrowed to a route between downtown and Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, is just the first step of a passenger rail system that is envisioned to go north to Alliance and in other directions. The downtown-airport run is now planned for a fourth-quarter 2017 launch, and the downtown-far southwest portion, which would run through the Medical District, is now envisioned several years out.With negotiations with freight railroads over right of way having delayed the process, “maybe we need to start looking at ways to move people down our own property,” meaning the rail system could buy its own right of way, he said.Transportation authorities will have to study alternate funding sources for rail, such as expanded use of transit-oriented development around rail stations, tax increment financing districts and public-private partnerships, Mahaffey said.Planners may also have to consider options such as trolleys and people movers, or automated systems that usually operate within a small area, Mahaffey said.“The city’s going to get so hard to move around [in],” Mahaffey said.TexRail is applying to the federal government for a “new starts” grant to help fund the initial phase of the project. The T is on target to receive a record of decision from the Federal Transit Administration approving the project by early 2014, the T has said. Such a decision would make the project eligible for funding when money becomes available.Rob Harmon, TexRail’s officer in charge for the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, told board and council members Tuesday that the T will ask the FTA for permission to complete some tasks ahead of schedule to assure that TexRail’s that first phase remains on track for late 2017.
Scott Nishimura, 817-390-7808 Twitter: @JScottNishimura