Years of planning and spending on a downtown Dallas rail transit subway could be derailed for good without an agreement on the latest plan by the end of March.
Dallas Area Rapid Transit is asking the Dallas City Council to endorse a preferred route on March 24 in order to remain in the running for $800 million in necessary federal funding for the project.
Known as “D-2,” the project would provide a second rail transit route through the city center to relieve congestion on the single route there is now for all DART light rail trains.
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The issues were discussed at a March 1 Dallas City Council Committee meeting.
“If we don't all agree, we're very close at that time to having a consensus that we're walking away,” Interim DART President David Leininger said.
There’s still disagreement about how the subway could conflict with a downtown highway plan and with Deep Ellum development.
Video renderings of how downtown stations might look are part of the $15 million DART spent already to move the project to 30% design. That’s the point necessary to advance to the next stage in competition for federal construction money.
Downtown resident Jake Boyer lives right beside a proposed new surface-level station near the Perot Museum on the western end of D-2.
“It would be super convenient to have a subway here for sure. Get around a lot easier,” Boyer said.
People involved with the project say there is strong support for the western side of the route.
A developer integrated the west side subway tunnel portal into plans for a high-rise project south of Woodall Rodgers Freeway.
DART video renderings depict two stations at the center of the route.
Controversy centers on the east side.
Activists have sought for years to remove the elevated freeway known as I-345 that separates downtown from Deep Ellum. There is now growing support for a reconstructed road in the future that would depress the highway below grade instead.
The subway plan called for a tunnel portal that would return trains to the surface on the east end under that elevated freeway. Now the road and the subway plans compete for the same space.
In addition, Deep Ellum business people and property owners have voiced fears about unsightly rail line congestion with DART’s current plan to rejoin trains on the surface with the existing rail track in Deep Ellum.
"Where our track is in that area, development can still happen over that. We’re willing to work with the property owners to do that," said DART Capital Planning Manager Kay Shelton. “We want to make sure we're doing it right the first time so we minimize the disruption for the community.”
Some city council members at the March 1 meeting were not satisfied with DART’s plans.
“I’m not leaving this with a level of comfort and I want to be an enthusiastic supporter of this,” Council Member Chad West said.
Spokesman Gordon Shattles Thursday said DART is working on a compromise to keep the project on track.
“What’s really served us well is bringing together all of the interested parties, all of the people most affected by this future alignment and making sure that the alignment works for all their individual needs,” Shattles said.
West Side neighbor Jake Boyer said he hopes it works out.
“There's not a lot of options for walking or biking around. Good public transport is good for any downtown I think,” Boyer said.
DART ridership plummeted with the COVID-19 pandemic but Shattles said it is recovering and the D-2 project will still be important for the city’s future.