One of the primary issues holding up the wider buildout of mass transit options such as light rail doesn’t have anything to do with technological capability or basic economics, but is rather that labyrinthine bureaucratic structures (organisms?) have become the norm in many parts of the country — having seemingly installed themselves anywhere that funds change hands regularly in large quantities.
These structures are often incredibly economically inefficient, using a large portion of the funds that pass through them for self-upkeep, rather than for effective, direct action on project development, etc.
Case in point: despite all of the money, fancy job titles, and people involved, Dallas Area Rapid Transit officials don’t appear to be aware of the basic fact of whether or not 2 different downtown transit projects are actually unknowingly competing over the same pot of federal funds.
Rather than paraphrase, I’ll just let the Dallas Morning News explain the situation directly: “Dallas Area Rapid Transit officials gave conflicting answers Monday about whether two downtown transit projects will be seeking the same pot of federal funds for construction. DART rail planning vice president Steve Salin told Dallas City Council members the agency hasn’t yet decided which grant program to pursue for a downtown streetcar extension. But that statement came both before and after DART president and executive director Gary Thomas said the agency plans to tap different grant programs for the streetcar extension and a second light-rail alignment through downtown.”
Continuing: “DART and the city are pursuing two major transit projects in the city’s central business district. One is extending the downtown-Oak Cliff streetcar line through the central business district and up to the M-Line trolley that runs through Uptown. The other project is a second downtown light-rail route, a project dubbed D2. If the two pull from one source of funds, though, they could conceivably be competing against each other. When asked about the conflicting statements after Monday’s meeting, DART spokesman Morgan Lyons said the city still hasn’t determined what it wants to do with the streetcar project.”
He was quoted as saying: “We want to find the best approach to advance the project, but first it needs more definition. Ultimately we’ll work to find the best fit between project and federal funding tool.”
The sort of statement that sounds like it means something on the surface, but doesn’t actually communicate anything solid.
What makes it more interesting, though, is that a City Council member by the name of Philip Kingston was quoted as saying that he was in meetings earlier this year with DART, civic leaders, and residents that focused on connecting the downtown and Uptown streetcar lines and extending the Uptown portion to Knox Street — meetings where, according to Kingston, it was clear that DART was planning to use separate grants for the 2 projects.
Continuing: “Kingston also said that he wants his council colleagues to push for a streetcar project that includes extending the M-Line up McKinney Avenue to Knox Street. In an interview, Kingston said he’s also concerned about comments DART officials made to him about how the streetcar project is proceeding. Kingston said when he inquired about DART not submitting the streetcar extension in a small starts grant application that’s due next month, he was told that city staffers wanted to slow down on that project.”
“(Now) I can’t find anyone in City Hall who remembers that,” Kingston noted.
He was then reportedly told that the deadline for applications was moved forward by several weeks, making an attempt to submit the streetcar project this fiscal year less feasible.
“It’s two explanations when one would do,” Kingston stated.
What an amazingly convoluted situation. Exactly the sort that makes many people wary and skeptical of relying too much on long-established public institutions in situations of importance. In the case of mass transit development in the US, though, there aren’t really any alternatives.
Image: Dallas light rail via US DOT
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