As our region continues to grow, transportation will need to bridge the growing gaps between where North Texans work, live, and play. Rail, roadway, and streetcar programs are already in the planning stages for a decade's worth of construction -- if the funding can be found.
Dallas area rail transit expansion in the works now will double the DART Light Rail route within the next few years, connecting Dallas with both major airports and also to a new Denton rail transit line.
Irving DART rail rider Shelly Dolans is one of the passengers learning to like rail in a region built with roads.
“I love taking my car back and forth. But with the gas and the parking and all that, I can just hop on the train, it's right by my house, park my car and go,” Dolans said.
Dallas rider Darlene Dilworth uses DART rail everyday. “It’s the only way I can get around,” Dilworth said.
The “T” in Fort Worth is also laying plans for rail transit to be operating by 2013. The agency is buying land for stations along existing rail tracks. The route will run from southwest Fort Worth to DFW airport, connecting with DART rail there.
(Video below showcases this project)
“This cuts across some of the most congested highways in the county,” said The T Executive Director Dick Ruddell.
Money is lined up for these rail transit plans, but not for a true regional network envisioned by transportation planners.
“That's what we've been trying to work with the legislature the past two sessions, to get them to find some sort of a funding mechanism,” Ruddell said.
A regional network could operate on existing tracks like the Trinity Rail Express currently does between Fort Worth and Dallas.
North Texas could see major new roadways by 2020, but the shortage of funding means they will be tollroads. A Trinity River Parkway in Dallas and a Southwest Parkway in Fort Worth are both projects of the North Texas Tollway Authority.
Democratic Dallas Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, a member of the US House Transportation Committee, said toll roads are necessary to keep North Texas moving.
“The major reason that we can not wait to get the money available is that we don't know when that will be. And so that's the only way we can continue our progress,” Johnson said.
An outer loop for Dallas, known as Loop 9 is still unfunded. Portions of the road were to be included in the Trans-Texas Corridor project which was recently killed by the Texas Department of Transportation after substantial public opposition.
Still, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray La Hood offers encouragement about federal funding for future North Texas Transportation projects.
“When the state has its act together, and it's focused on transportation, their needs will be met,” La Hood said.
North Texas leaders are lobbying LaHood to support streetcar plans which are being formulated in Dallas and Fort Worth. Streetcars would serve as downtown circulators in both cities. LaHood has made no promises, but said that streetcar systems are the sort of project the federal government supports.
“It’s a part of the livable and sustainable communities that we are promoting as part of our 21st century goals at the department of transportation.”
Officials say funding will remain the challenge for North Texas transportation in 2020 and beyond.
“And because of our population, we simply can’t walk away and ignore it. We’ve got to find ways to keep people moving, to keep goods moving,” Johnson said.