Wednesday, August 11, 2010

DART still eyes airport LRT access

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Despite warning of fiscal shortfalls for long-term capital projects throughout the year, Dallas Area Rapid Transit appears determined to advance Orange Line light rail access to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

The airport/LRT link is a highlight in a revised 20-year financial plan DART officials presented to the DART Board of Directors Tuesday.The 20-year plan also would allow an extension of the Blue Line to southern Oak Cliff, Tex., by the end of the decade, though that project might compete with plans for a second downtown Dallas rail line, either LRT or streetcar, that have been postponed.

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DART spokesman Morgan Lyons told Railway Age Wednesday that the Board is scheduled to vote on the proposed revised plan at its meeting September 28. He added, “The current 37-mile light rail expansion, which includes the completion of the Green Line from Pleasant Grove to Carrollton and the new Lake Highlands Station in December, the Blue Line extension from Garland to Rowlett, and the first two sections of the Orange Line from Bachman Station in Northwest Dallas to Irving in 2012, are not affected by the projected shortfall.

The proposed 20-year financial plan includes $4.7 billion in capital project funds for rail expansion and other projects such as the planned purchase of new buses and other items required to maintain the agency’s state of good repair,” Lyons said.

A draft budget for 2011 calls for trimming 87 full-time jobs at DART, which DART expects to address through attrition. DART does anticipate some reduced bus and rail services, including having light rail trains run through downtown Dallas every 15 minutes instead of every 10, employed by other U.S. transit operators this year, but one DART has resisted.

Chief Financial Officer David Leininger told board members Tuesday that revenue projections had improved markedly in the past six weeks as his staff re-examined projected spending and revenue. “We are not out of thewoods yet in knowing what our sales-tax and fare-box revenue estimates really will be,” Leininger said. “But we believe that we have bottomed and will return to normal. The question is, ‘What will normal be like when we get there?’ So our ability to forecast the numbers, in some respect, is still suspect.”