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A FEDERAL SALUTE TO DART

By Angela Enright |

The Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) system continues to be one of the most controversial subjects in the city. The initial excitement has subsided significantly with the resignation of executive director Maurice Carter, the hiring of additional staff members and the disillusionment of residents in Farmers Branch and Carrollton about whether they will ever reap the benefits of the transportation system they so overwhelmingly approved last year.

One person who offers an interesting perspective on the DART plan is Ralph Stanley, administrator of the Urban Mass Transportation Administration (UMTA). The federal agency has a $4 billion annual budget, and Stanley is responsible for doling out grants to transportation projects around the country. (A $51.4 million UMTA grant financed the purchase of 664 of the buses currently operating in Dallas.) When Stanley was in town for the Republican National Convention, he said that DART is one of the most outstanding mass transit plans in the country because voters approved a dedicated source of funding with its I-cent sales tax.

Stanley said that one of the toughest things he has had to do is try to run UMTA like a business-to make sure that funds are applied to the systems that are the best-planned and that indicate they will give the best financial return. He says that Houston, Los Angeles and Seattle have some of the best mass transit plans in the country, so he is willing to appropriate a lot of money to them. What he’s up against, he says, is a Congress that would rather see several cities receive small grants than a few cities receive large grants.

Mass transit plans that rank low in Stanley’s opinion include the ones in St. Louis, Miami and Philadelphia. “St. Louis has no city tax, no county tax, no state money-nothing at all. And they want to build a light-rail system that will cost $250 million. I told them to do what Dallas did and pass a dedicated source of funding so you can issue bonds and recover the operating deficit. Tell people how much it will cost. They said, ’Every politician supports this project.’ And I said that I would too if I didn’t have to put up any money. How is it fair to the people in Texas if the people in St. Louis won’t vote a tax for their own transit system?”

Another problem he runs into, Stanley says, is that UMTA-funded projects never seem to be completed. Philadelphia is an example. “We put in $83 million to build a highspeed rail to the airport for the Bicentennial. It’s still not finished. I read one week that the mayor was concerned about when the line would open. The same transit authority was in my office a week later talking about new projects. I ran them out and told them to finish what they had started.”

In addition to DART’s dedicated source of funding, Stanley says that one of the city’s best assets is Walter Humann. (He headed the volunteer Transportation Task Force that studied DART and is now chairman of the volunteer committee studying design plans for Central Expressway.) Hu-mann spent time with Stanley going over the DART plan earlier this year. “Walter has a very refreshing approach. Here I was waiting for him to put his argument together and tell me he needed $50 million. Instead, he went on describing what DART was doing. And after dinner it didn’t come. I said, ’Walter, is that it?’ When he left, I thought he would write me. I saw him later and said, ’Walter, you put in all that time. I was waiting for you to ask for money, and you didn’t.’”

Stanley said that Humann’s approach is typical of Texans. “I wish I could lake Walter Hu-mann to other cities for a year… He was very up-front about costs, time, the business community’s involvement. Nobody in Dallas has any doubts about what the plan is. They may disagree with it, but disagreement is nothing new. But there is a great deal of honesty in this plan, and that is the exception.”

That kind of encouraging word is music to the ears of DART chairwoman Adlene Harrison, who currently is agonizing because Carrollton and Fanners Branch will be voting in January on whether they want to continue to be a part of the DART plan or not. She said she hopes “reason will prevail” and those voters will realize that chucking the DART plan for their cities could hurt their development.

She insists that those residents will be getting what they’re paying for-express bus service and local service. “Express bus service is expensive. They will also be getting local service; it’s expensive. They are getting what they pay for. The people who live in that area do a lot of shopping in cities that collect tax money for DART. Every time they buy something in a town that supports DART, they’re going to be paying for the system anyway. Why not be a part of it? I’m sure those cities and those citizens have a lot of hopes and aspirations, and no one is telling them that they have a lot more to lose by pulling out than by staying in.”

Harrison says that it’s unreasonable to think that DART canplease everyone at once. “Noone can expect us to just pull alever and make buses droponto the roads, maintenancefacilities appear and all theother things happen that haveto happen. We are right onschedule. We didn’t start collecting tax money until ninemonths ago.”