DART, East Texas Transit Officials Sign Letter They Hope Leads to Light-Rail Love Affair
|DART chair Bill Velasco, left, and North East Texas Regional Mobility Authority's Jeff Austin III look at the line that could one day connect their parts of the great state.|
Austin tells Unfair Park today he asked Thomas to come out to Tyler a few years back and lay out what DART had on the drawing board. At which point Austin took a look at the so-called Texas Triangle and wondered how "we can be a spoke in the hub, because in East Texas, we refer to the Texas Triangle as a rectangle."
DART spokesman Morgan Lyons and Austin acknowledge: They're years, more than likely decades, away from anything tangible coming from today's signing. But it's an important first step, they say, toward bringing in other cities and counties (and states, even), not to mention private investors and federal dollars, that might one day want to hook up with DART.
"It's important for them to have easy access to education and jobs and health care here, and they want to expand their market there as well," Lyons says. "They have a UT system school, an A&M system school, so how can you make it easier for folks from Dallas to get there? A letter like this is important in getting federal funding, which is DART's legacy, because you can bring a lot of different people with you and show a broad spectrum of support."
Says Austin, who points to U.S. 80 as the most likely existing route to follow, "We want to provide long-term ridership with an alternative to I-20. The question is: How can we plan that. We have the authority and ability to do that, and there's not one right answer. We want to engage communities, economic development folks, cities, counties. How can it work, and if it did, what would it look like? The real question is: Who's gonna pay for it and how? Tha'll come when we determine the need, purpose and buy-in, but it's a ground-up initiative, not top-down. We've talked about it openly. We've had a lot of people encourage it, and if we can come up with innovative ways of funding it, we'll do it, and we may need outside financial partners."
Lyons says, sure, parts of East Texas may seem a million miles away to those who never leave the loop, but it's really no different than DART's more immediate hopes of hooking in suburbs not presently part of DART.
"Allen and Frisco have plans -- and Allen even has some funding to tap into our system," Lyons says. He also points to a deal with a transit company in Sherman buses locals down to the Parker Road Station for a light-rail ride into Dallas. This, he says, wouldn't be so different from that.
"What you've seen the board do over the last year or so is say, 'We need to start looking beyond the boundaries of our service area,'" Lyons says. "Let's acknowledge there's a lot of interest outside in connecting to our system, and this is part of that."
"You have to start somewhere," Austin says. "We gotta start planning it, and how do we shorten that gap of 20, 25 years. You gotta start planning. That's what Texans do best."