Expressing shame that their city ranks among the lowest in the United States in public transit use, Fort Worth officials gathered Tuesday to call for faster action in building new rail lines on the metropolitan area's fast-growing west side.
"We have a desperate need for commuter rail," Mayor Mike Moncrief said during the joint meeting of the City Council and the Fort Worth Transportation Authority at the city's convention center.
Moncrief, who is not running for another term, called upon elected leaders to learn more about the region's long-term transit vision and make it a priority to hook Fort Worth's neighborhoods -- whether in the city center or on the suburban edges -- into that system.
Only 1.3 percent of Fort Worth residents takes transit to work, compared with 4.3 percent in Dallas, 5 percent in Austin, 7.9 percent in Denver and 54 percent in New York, Assistant City Manager Fernando Costa said.
Moncrief emphasized the need to move faster on a proposed commuter rail line from southwest Fort Worth to Grapevine and the north end of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport -- a $500 million-plus project that's years overdue.
T President Dick Ruddell said that project -- now known as Tarrant Express, or TEX -- is on course to be open by 2015, but only if the Federal Transit Authority agrees to cover about half the cost with new-start grant funds.
Moncrief and others also favored a more aggressive push for commuter rail service to the AllianceTexas development.
"Folks in north Fort Worth are very frustrated with our transit system," Councilman Sal Espino said.
"We need to find out how to connect our citizens to 40,000-plus jobs in the Alliance area."
Safety and mobility
Moncrief noted that Fort Worth officials in the 1980s opted to steer sales tax revenue toward public safety, and today a half-cent sales tax is collected for that purpose. Meanwhile, Dallas-area cities agreed to collect a 1-cent transit tax, and now Dallas Area Rapid Transit has one of the nation's most extensive light-rail systems.
Meanwhile, Fort Worth's bus system is regarded as bare-bones, and the city has only one rail connection to Dallas -- the Trinity Railway Express.
"We have one of the safest cities in the U.S., but we have a desperate need for transportation," Moncrief said. He urged council members to seek more information about how mass transit works.
But the city's recent debate over streetcars, which the council opted not to pursue, showed that many elected leaders don't share a common vision about mass transit, and Councilman Joel Burns said his colleagues are guilty of ignoring experts' call for more transit options.
"We can have the smartest, brightest, most amazing folks, but if we're not brave enough to hear what their recommendations are it doesn't do a lot of good," said Burns, a staunch supporter of the streetcar plan. "People are angry. They feel like we have failed them."
The T plans to submit its request for federal funding for the TEX rail project by June, Ruddell told the group. If the federal government accepts the application, preliminary engineering could be complete by late 2012 and construction could be under way by 2013, making it possible to open the line from Fort Worth to Grapevine by 2015, he said.
The line would also connect the medical district and Texas Christian University, where frequent shuttle service would operate. Also, stations would be built near I-20 and Granbury Road and Sycamore School Road, opening up the city's southwest side for transit-friendly development.
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796