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Arlington councilwoman sees commuter rail as a big priority

ARLINGTON -- Councilwoman Kathryn Wilemon spoke in favor Wednesday of having commuter rail service in Arlington, telling a chamber of commerce group that the city must stay connected to the rest of the region.

Addressing a luncheon of the North Arlington Business Council, Wilemon said that rail service is growing in neighboring cities and that Arlington doesn't want to be the "hole in the doughnut."

She pointed to the newly formed Transportation Advocates of Texas, which launched a website and a social-media campaign Tuesday, as one way Arlington business leaders can get involved and help shape the transportation agenda in the 2011 Legislature.

The group says it is made up of public officials, business leaders, road contractors and private citizens who aim to work with lawmakers to secure transportation funding to enhance mobility, improve air quality, relieve gridlock, maintain infrastructure and energize the economy.

"This is the time to get on our thinking caps and get involved," Wilemon said. "It's going to impact your family, your business, your way of life, right here."

Major obstacles

North Arlington, home of the entertainment district and major employers and close to downtown and the University of Texas at Arlington, could serve as a prototype for how rail service could work in the rest of the city, she said. She urged the several dozen gathered to think about how rail service could benefit their business and to share ideas.

Wilemon, chairwoman of the Tarrant Regional Transportation Coalition, ticked off the obstacles Arlington faces to getting rail service: congestion on the Union Pacific railroad track, the main line that runs through town; the fact that the city is mostly built out, meaning right-of-way acquisition would be more costly; and a lack of funding.

But she is undaunted.

"If we have the vision, it will happen," she said. "I've seen it before in this city."

Grassroots effort

Bruce Payne, the city's economic development manager, followed up by saying that the city needs to expand transportation options to prepare for the likelihood of sharply higher gasoline prices. But that will require support from business leaders and others, he told the group.

"There has to be a solid economic development reason for it," he said, "because politically I don't think this will be supported well if the general public thinks it's just something the government is doing."

After the luncheon, Councilman Mel LeBlanc, who represents north Arlington, echoed that thought.

"It will require a groundswell of support from the people," he said. "So far, we haven't had that."

Online: texastransportation.org

Patrick M. Walker, 817-390-7423

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