Monday, July 30, 2012

DART opens three light-rail stations in Irving - Fort Worth Star Telegram

IRVING -- Sixteen years after Irving voters chose to spend their tax money on public transportation rather than expanding Texas Stadium for the Dallas Cowboys, that investment is paying off.

Three new light-rail stations on Dallas Area Rapid Transit's Orange Line opened Monday in Irving. Officials said the project is on schedule to connect downtown Dallas to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport by December 2014.The westernmost station on the Orange Line is at the new Irving Convention Center, which is surrounded by vast amounts of empty land that hold the promise of future development for Irving's Las Colinas area."You'll see some residential, some office, some restaurants ... an entertainment venue someday," said Maura Gast, Irving Convention & Visitors Bureau executive director.In addition to opening the convention center station, DART began service Monday to Las Colinas Urban Center, which already features shops and established apartments, as well as at the University of Dallas.Critical eyeAll three new stations are a short drive from the former site of Texas Stadium, which was imploded after the Cowboys moved to Arlington in 2009. Irving voters in 1996 made the decision to continue paying a 1-cent sales tax to DART rather than using the revenue to renovate, expand and place a roof over the old stadium.With DART on pace to arrive at DFW Airport by late 2014, officials in the Fort Worth area are turning a critical eye to the Fort Worth Transportation Authority. That agency, also known as the T, 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 Fort Worth City Council has set up a 14-member passenger rail committee chaired by Councilman Jungus Jordan to help guide the T's leadership through the process, including yet-to-be-signed agreements with the railroad companies that own the tracks upon which TEX Rail would run.The T has requested $415 million in federal transit grant 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.Bus changesWith 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 when 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 of 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 Texas Stadium site, which now serves as a construction staging ground for highway work crews.Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796Twitter: @gdickson

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