Ladrika Davis Gross didn’t plan on moving to Dallas from New Orleans. But August 29, 2005, changed everything. That morning, Hurricane Katrina made landfall, killing more than 1,800 and causing an estimated $148 billion in damage. Gross, her then husband, and their three kids fled, eventually winding up at Reunion Arena, where they remained for the next four weeks. While they were there, DART personnel visited.
“They were offering jobs, they were offering bus tokens and bus passes so people could get out and explore the DFW area,” Gross says. “They were very active with the citizens of New Orleans.” Within five months, Gross had a job as a bus driver and has since been promoted to rail operator. “It gave me the opportunity to experience the different parts of the city, from Dallas to Plano to the west side,” she says of her route.
DART started light-rail service in June 1996, with just 11 miles of track. With the final section of the Orange Line opening in August, it now operates 90 miles of track and employs 3,600 people systemwide. According to a study by the Center for Economic Development and Research at the University of North Texas, the rail line has generated $7.4 billion in regional economic activity with “more than $5.3 billion in private-capital transit-oriented development projects.”
And for Gross, it gave her a reason to stay.
“We came to Dallas, and we saw the difference in the environment,” she says. “It was like, ‘Wow, it’s nice out here. Safe out here.’ There’s a lot of opportunity. When we saw it, we agreed that we weren’t going back.”