“And that’s been their view of transit.”
In the seven years he has been with The T, Ruddell has seen the Fort Worth population grow by nearly 50 percent — one of the fastest rates in the nation. And with that population explosion came a marked increase in congestion.
“For most of that time there has been tons of jobs and people have moved here for the jobs,” Ruddell says.
“And that’s created its problems which is congestion. And so people see public transit. They’ve seen how other cities have dealt with it. And a lot of the people moving in are coming from cities where they’ve seen public transit so they’re wanting it here.
“Which I think has provided the biggest impetus to do something with some kind of rail project.
“And they see the great success that DART has had right next door. You have a very successful transit authority that has built light rail and is building light rail. And people are using it all over the place so they see that and they go, ‘Hey, why can’t we have some of that?’
“It’s just all added up to a more positive view of public transportation in a very pickup-oriented community.”
The T’s next expansion is a southwest to northeast rail line connecting Fort Worth via its downtown Intermodal Transit Center (ITC) with Dallas-Fort Worth International airport (DFW). The first major concern for the project was, as always, funding. Ruddell explains that Texas has a statewide sales tax cap of 8.25 percent, but the proposed rail line actually ran through one of only two municipalities that still had room — Grapevine was a full penny under the cap.
“I figured out we could do it with 3/8 of a cent instead of a full ½ cent which is what the T is, a half cent. But I told them, I said you don’t get any bus service for this, you just get commuter rail.
“If you want everything then it’s going to be 1/2 cent like Fort Worth, but if you just want the commuter rail I can do it for 3/8 of a cent. So the Grapevine mayor put it on the ballot and it passed. And that passed. Seventy-five percent of his voters voted to increase their sales tax.
“This wasn’t a poll. This was pull the lever to increase my sales tax 3/8 of a cent to build this commuter rail line, and 75 percent of his citizens voted to do that,” Ruddell says.
Ruddell says the new line will be a boon for many businesses in Tarrant County, especially in Grapevine. “There is a big employment base in Grapevine. I think they have more employees than they have citizens because all of the businesses.
“They have a lot of hotels, a big mall. They just need a lot of service workers. But the service workers can’t afford to live in Grapevine. So that’s why they really need this transit to bring workers in. And then it goes on to the airport, which is a big employment base itself.
“The majority of the riders — and it’s hard to get elected officials to understand this — if you talk to an elected official their thought of transit to the airport is going there to fly. That’s what they all think. That’s how they use it. But to convince them, yeah that’s nice but it won’t support public transit into the airport.
“What supports it are the employees. There are 17,000 employees at the airport. That’s what will support the transit, those people going to work. And then you get to ride it to fly out as a sort of side benefit.”
Ruddell explains that when you talk about putting a rail line into an airport you have to split into two different things — the airport and the FAA. DFW was very supportive of the rail line early on and even offered to build the station on their property at their expense if The T built the rail line to it, but then the airport wasn’t the FAA.
“We were told how onerous, how bureaucratic the FAA can be — even worse than the FTA,” Ruddell laughs.