In the aftermath of last week’s Dallas Area Rapid Transit board vote, which kept DART from taking out a $1 billion loan to build the Cotton Belt rail line from Plano to DFW Airport, the debate over the future of the transit agency has been framed as the city versus the suburbs.
This is somewhat understandable. After all, DART was sold as a regional network, and the cornerstone of that regional network is a light-rail system that is designed as a regional commuter rail service. By sheer geographic necessity, the first 30 years of construction of the network required building lots of miles of rails in Dallas. Now, having poured their sales tax dollars into that construction, the suburbs are impatient to see their portion of the rail finally delivered.
In a recent Dallas Morning News op-ed, former Addison city manager Ron Whitehead restates the terms of this mutual trust.
“We know the promises that were made and that Dallas could not have built the system that exists inside Dallas in a timely manner without the commitment of the suburbs,” Whitehead writes. “Dallas has already been well-served by its membership in DART. … Where now is the leadership that will talk about the region?”
However logical Whitehead’s argument may seem to appear at first glance, it is a dangerous perspective. This is not because DART and Dallas don’t have a commitment to think regionally about transit but rather because it is the expression of a political perspective that has long obscured the very mission, goals, and measures of success of the regional transit agency. Whitehead’s comments reflect an attitude that equates DART with its light-rail network, and it doubles down on a long-term transportation planning strategy that was questionable 30 years ago when it was first devised and is today demonstrably a failure.Read More