When the Dallas Area Rapid Transit board last year approved a decision to pay its 13 member cities millions of dollars in excess sales tax revenue, the city of Dallas began imagining how it would spend its $111 million share.
One of those ideas was to begin to build the Five Mile Creek Urban Greenbelt, which includes a long-awaited 13-mile trail that would extend from near the Westmoreland DART station to the Trinity Forest through Oak Cliff.
The city worked a funding deal with the North Central Texas Council of Governments: Dallas puts in $10 million from its sales tax bonus bucks and gets $15.4 million back from the COG, which would be enough to build a “shovel-ready” portion of trail near Kiest Park and cover the cost of the design and engineering for the rest of the trail corridor.
Emails obtained by D Magazine show the financing plan is now paused as the city and DART work through disagreements over which agency should cover the cost of delays and “project enhancements” related to the Silver Line commuter rail project that DART is building through Far North Dallas.
This was the matter we covered last week. DART believes it has spent $36 million on “betterments” related to the Silver Line and says that design and construction permitting delays have cost the agency close to $50 million. DART would like the city to settle up and has suggested using the city’s share from the extra tax revenue to do so. Dallas disagrees with the transit agency, arguing that those “betterments” were necessary design adjustments in line with strategic plans approved by the City Council.
With both parties at an impasse, the North Central Texas Council of Governments is mediating. That means the funding plan for Five Mile is on hold for now.
The nonprofit Trust for Public Land is shepherding the Five Mile project, overseeing design and construction while acquiring land that it donates to the city of Dallas. Robert Kent, the Texas State Director for TPL, said in an email that the organization is “aware of the ongoing discussions between DART, City of Dallas, and NCTCOG.”
“We are hopeful for a quick resolution to this issue. Trust for Public Land is proud of our partnership with our public partners to bring the long-awaited Five Mile Creek Greenbelt to life,” he wrote.
It’s unclear how long it will take for the organizations to reach a decision. Robert Perez, the assistant city manager over public works, last week confirmed that the first meeting between the three happened last Tuesday. He would not comment further, “until all of that is finalized and we have the opportunity to confer with the city manager, the DART CEO, and also with our Council.”
Mayor Eric Johnson has made funding and building the Five Mile project a key part of his recent platform. The emails show that funding discussions between the city and the NCTCOG began last October and progressed quickly. Ken Kirkpatrick, the COG’s general counsel, sent a draft of an interlocal agreement to the city last December. (An ILA, as that is abbreviated, is required before public agencies can enter into funding agreements with one another.)
The funding does not appear to be imperiled, just delayed. Before DART’s board approved giving cities the excess sales tax dollars, the mayor had asked the city manager to research using the city’s own excess revenue to pay for the beginnings of the trail. That bucket of $20 million was to be used on projects that advanced racial equity—like a trail through southern Dallas and Oak Cliff.
On Monday, a COG staffer emailed Perez asking whether the city anticipated a delay in receiving the sales tax revenue from DART.
“Given the status of the excess sales tax revenues,” Perez wrote, “I think delaying … is best for the time being.”
Five Mile is one of many projects the city wants to pay for with the sales tax dollars. Others include completing priority projects in the city’s Sidewalk Master Plan, bike lane upgrades, a study for how to turn DART parking lots at park and rides into mixed use developments, a pilot program to pay for free student rides, reconstructed traffic signals, and more.
The city had hoped to receive Council approval this month to accept the tax money and begin working, but the dustup has created a fuzzy timeline. This first confirmed delay won’t be the last.