Monday, July 30, 2012

DART opens 3 new light rail stations; nearly reaches DFW Airport - Fort Worth Star Telegram (blog)


Three new light rail stations opened Monday, and Dallas Area Rapid Transit officials say they're on course to extend the Orange Line to DFW Airport's Terminal A by December 2014.

The Orange Line now extends as far west as the new Irving Convention Center, where vast surrounding empty land holds the promise of future development. Another station, Las Colinas Urban Center, already features shops and established apartments in the famed commercial district.

In 1996, Irving voters opted to stay in DART rather than spend a 1-cent sales tax expanding Texas Stadium. In making that decision, voters and city leaders knew they might eventually lose the designation as home to America's Team, the Dallas Cowboys, who moved to Arlington in 2009.

But 16 years later, those who support mass transit say the decision is finally paying off.

The Fort Worth Transportation Authority also plans to reach DFW Airport with its TEX Rail project, which would connect southwest Fort Worth to Northeast Tarrant County by commuter rail. But that project is several years behind schedule, and likely won't open until 2016 at the earliest.

The T has requested about $415 million in federal transit funding for the $758 million job.

If and when TEX Rail reaches the airport, Fort Worth-area riders will be able to transfer from that train at Terminal B to the DART Orange Line at Terminal A with only a short walk.

DFW Airport officials are already working on a station for the DART Orange Line, and have said they will accommodate the T's TEX Rail line, too.

With the opening of the new stations Monday, DART also tweaked its bus schedule and moved many routes away from the old North Irving Transit Center, just a block or so away from the new light rail tracks. A few riders complained about headaches, including Scott Miller of New York, who works in the commercial mortgage industry and was visiting Irving on a business trip.

"I've got to go all the way over there, and it's 107 degrees outside. Smart isn't it?" said Miller, who was only slightly exaggerating, as while he spoke at about 10:30 a.m. the temperature was only 91 degrees.

 Miller was complaining about a lack of parking at the Irving Convention Center station. He watched in frustration as a shuttle bus driver coming to take him to his Irving hotel struggled to figure out how to get to the new train platform. Miller could see the bus from a block away but, because his cellphone battery had died, was unable to alert the bus driver as to his whereabouts.

"I'm in the middle of nowhere," Miller said, adding that he rides DART regularly on trips to North Texas. "Usually, it's really good. But this is in the middle of God knows where."

But overall, DART reported no major problems with the new Orange Line extension, spokesman Morgan Lyons said. He said the next station at Belt Line Road is scheduled to open Dec. 3, as Orange Line construction creeps closer and closer to the "big" airport.

The opening of the Las Colinas area stations was particularly challenging, he said, because DART had to work around the Texas Department of Transportation's construction near Texas 114 and Loop 12.

"Our challenge was timing the work in our corridor with the highway work," he said. Part of the Orange Line runs parallel to Texas 114, within view of the old site Texas Stadium site that now serves as a construction staging ground for highway work crews.

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