The coronavirus has negatively impacted Dallas Area Regional Transit at the fare box and on its sales tax revenue stream. Fewer people shopping mean lower sales tax revenue. Fewer people using mass transit reduced fare income.
As the transit agency ponders its financial future, long time opponents are pushing delay of the Silver Line rail plan.
“Our focus should be on buses,” said Dane Cofer, who lives along the Silver Line's planned route.
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His North Dallas home is immediately beside the path of the Plano to DFW Airport Silver Line. DART broke ground on the Silver Line last year, even though design is still not complete. Only a small amount of work has been done on the $1 billion project, which is currently forecast for completion in December 2022.
“We are continuing with the process on Silver Line until we hear otherwise,” said DART spokesman Gordon Shattles.
Dallas City Council member Cara Mendelsohn, whose district includes the North Dallas route for the Silver Line, held a virtual town hall meeting with city officials to respond to neighbor concerns.
Instead of delays, the DART board Tuesday spent time on refinements to "betterments" along the Silver Line, to add walls and adjust the project design.
The project was to have been completed at the same time as the so called “D-2” subway line in downtown Dallas, but D-2 has fallen behind.
The DART board of directors has discussed a potential D-2 delay amid the agency’s financial problems.
“We’re looking at the opportunity of no delay, up to a three, five or, at the worst-case scenario, 15 years,” Shattles said.
D-2 supporters said Silver Line should also be delayed.
Cofer proposed a compromise of stopping the Silver Line from DFW Airport short of completion.
“Stop at Addison, and when you can do D-2, finish the rest of the Cotton Belt. That way it keeps the completion of the Cotton Belt still tied to D-2,” Cofer said.
The Silver Line would arrive at DFW Airport at the North DFW station, where it would follow the tracks of TEXRail trains from Fort Worth into the terminals.
TEXRail trains operate with very few riders and Cofer predicts Silver Line trains would, too.
“TEXRail was off by huge percentages, even before COVID hit, now it’s off by even lower,” he said.
Shattles said the Silver Line would serve much larger population.
“The Silver Line project of course, is a very different route, from Plano all the way to DFW Airport, but the areas that it goes to are places that have been looking forward to the Silver Line for over 30 years, Addison being the greatest example. They’ve got amazing development in the area,” Shattles said.
Addison and other cities along the Silver Line have demanded the new Silver Line rail service for many years as North Dallas neighbors complained about the possible noise and safety concerns from rail transit in the residential neighborhood.
DART board members heard additional financial information from CEO Gary Thomas Tuesday. Furloughs and layoffs have been suggested as possibilities, but Thomas said he believed a program of early retirement and a hiring freeze may be sufficient to deal with the budget crunch.
DART received $229 million in CARES Act coronavirus relief funding from the federal government. Shattles said much of the money would pay for cleaning and other spending the agency has already done. It will not fully cover coronavirus losses.