Photo: At rail stations across the area, DART representatives invite the public to help celebrate the 20th anniversary of DART Rail. /Courtesy photo
Knowing the fight would be an uphill battle, a group of area leaders pushed for a mass transit system to connect residents in the cities of Dallas and Irving to the local places they wished to travel. On Tuesday, June 14, DART Rail celebrated its 20th anniversary with customer appreciation events at six DART Rail stations.
“Last week, Dallas Area Rapid Transit marked the 20th anniversary of the debut of light rail in North Texas,” Mark Ball of DART media relations said. “Customer events were held at a half-dozen stations, including Union Station, where it all began on June 14, 1996. DART Rail was 11 miles then.
“In just two decades, DART Rail is the longest light rail system in North America at 90 miles with 62 stations in eight cities, direct access to DFW International Airport, several colleges and hospitals, major employers, and sporting events,” he said.
By October of this year, DART Rail will extend to 93 miles and 64 stations, including the opening of a three-mile Blue Line extension from Ledbetter Station to UNT Dallas.
According to data from an economic survey conducted through UNT in 2014, $5.3 billion in development projects have been built or planned near DART’s light rail stations since 1996.
“The rail expansion ultimately will boost regional economic activity by almost $8.8 billion, increase labor income by $3.9 billion, and support an average of about 4,250 jobs per year for 15 years,” Ball said. “Total state and local government revenues associated with this spending will approach $281 million.”
Among the dedicated group leaders who worked for light rail 20 years ago was City Councilman John Danish, who felt mass transit was essential to the growth of Irving.
“Originally, there was an election in 1982 called the Lone Star Transit Authority,” Danish said. “Only two cities voted to be a part of it, and they were Dallas and Irving, ironically.”
Two cities were not enough to move the project forward. One year later, however, Danish and his allies made a giant step in the right direction.
“They came back and had an election for Dallas Area Rapid Transit, and that was August of 1983,” Danish said. “That election did prevail, and the original 13 member cities began to vote to implement the one cent sales tax that they have coming in. They can dedicate it to the building of a transit system.”
Those cities that did not dedicate the entire one cent to the building of the rail stations were unable to move forward with the project, according to Danish.
“Fort Worth, for example, chose to do that one cent, but they dedicated only half of it to transportation, and that is the reason why they were never able to become a part of Dallas Area Rapid Transit,” Danish said. “Take a city like Arlington that has never developed a mass transit system. They used their penny for economic development along the I-30 corridor, building such things as the Rangers Ballpark, Six Flags, Wet ‘n’ Wild, etc.”
The DART Rail project faced several opponents during its inception; one of them came in the form of Jerry Jones.
“Along the way, there would be attempts to try to get Irving to vote out of DART, saying we could use that penny in a better way than building and being a part of a mass transit system,” Danish said.
“The greatest challenge came in the summer of ’96 when Jerry Jones wanted to expand and build a new stadium on the original Texas Stadium site. So it was his objective to try to preempt that one cent sales tax to use in building the kind of stadium he envisioned.
“We now know that in 20/20 hindsight what he envisioned was the Taj Mahal you see of AT&T Stadium today; $1.2 billion,” Danish said. “That TV set that hangs down from the ceiling running from the 30 yard line to the 30 yard line cost more money than the entire Texas Stadium cost to build in Irving.
“In the end, fortunately, our area of Texas made this commitment to building a light rail versus heavy commuter rail,” he said.
Danish explained that due to the mildness of north Texas weather, the rail system is more specifically a light rail system, which is one third of the cost of construction of heavy rail that can be seen in places like California.
“What was also fascinating was, when you had mayor races in those days for the city of Irving you were lucky to get 6,500 people to vote,” Danish said. “[The DART project] election brought out like 25,000. Democracy was voiced in a grand manner.
“This battle had been waged and waged and waged. The people have said stay the course, we want to be a part of mass transit. Now today, you’re reaping the harvest, as you’re beginning to see,” he said.
DART continues to grow and connect residents in the region with more innovation and expansion on the way.
“The North Texas region is growing, so DART is really thinking about core capacity and what we can do to improve what we already have,” Ball said. “One way is through platform extensions. We want every station on DART’s 90 miles of light rail to allow for three-car trains.
“This year should see the introduction of DART’s first all-electric buses. We’ll also begin testing bus shelters that include live feeds about bus locations and statuses,” he said.
“The fact that they’re celebrating 20 years of rail is a grand achievement,” Danish said. “It takes having the vision and the foresight to commit to do something.”