Jan. 05--FORT WORTH -- It has been nearly a year since all nine Fort Worth Transportation Authority board members were summarily dismissed by city and county leaders unhappy with delays on building the TEX Rail commuter line.
Mayor Betsy Price and other leaders also said they were skeptical about whether the transportation authority, commonly known as the T, could evolve from a bus company into a 21st-century transportation provider.
But how much progress has been made since then?
"The new board is doing a great job," Price said Friday, adding that she expects the City Council to get a full briefing from the new T board in the next couple of weeks. "There's a steep learning curve for any board."
The new chairman of the T board, Scott Mahaffey, says the agency is close to signing a handful of agreements that are crucial to ensuring that the first phase of the proposed TEX Rail project, a 27-mile rail line from downtown Fort Worth to Grapevine and Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, gets built by 2017 -- or shortly thereafter.
"We're hoping to have some good news in the next few weeks," said Mahaffey, a Fort Worth businessman. "There's still some points of negotiation going on, [but] all the deal points are pretty much together."
But the T still hasn't signed several key agreements, several top officials have been forced out of their jobs but still haven't been replaced, and the date for the start of TEX Rail keeps getting postponed.
And at least one Fort Worth council member admits that the new leadership's struggles to get TEX Rail going just like the old T board makes him realize that the region may need to rethink its long-term commuter rail strategy.
"It's not the time to pull the plug on TEX Rail, but we need to make sure it's still the most viable route," Councilman Jungus Jordan said. "I think we've got a board in place to tell us that."
A tough first year
It hasn't been an easy first year since the Fort Worth City Council replaced eight of the nine T board members Feb. 5, after weeks of discussion.
The T board's ninth member, who is appointed by Tarrant County, was also replaced days later.
Less than six months after the overhaul, on July 31, T officials announced their plans to indefinitely postpone development of the southern 10 miles of TEX Rail, from downtown to the city's medical district and TCU, so they could instead focus on getting the northern 27 miles of the route to Grapevine and DFW Airport built.
Yet the T still hasn't signed an agreement with Dallas Area Rapid Transit, which owns most of the tracks that would be used by TEX Rail from DFW Airport to the Stockyards area. Also, the T still hasn't inked a deal with Union Pacific Railroad to build a bridge over the Trinity River so the line can reach downtown.
Finally, a deal to allow Amtrak to run on the Trinity Railway Express line instead of the Union Pacific line in Arlington also hasn't been signed. That deal became part of the TEX Rail project after Union Pacific, which doesn't want Amtrak on its busy freight lines, requested it as a bargaining chip in the TEX Rail negotiations.
Meanwhile, the T also has lost personnel in several key positions.
The agency's president, Dick Ruddell, announced his retirement in September, and a search for his replacement could continue through March, Mahaffey said.
"They're getting a new director, and that will make a big difference," Price said. "The interviews are promising. They will start very soon."
Ruddell was criticized for a lack of experience in building a rail line and was partly blamed for the T not moving quicker in developing TEX Rail, although he also was widely credited with helping the T convert its administration into a regionally significant body.
Also, TRE chief operating officer Bill Farquhar resigned Jan. 7, 2013, after a disagreement with T officials over what kind of rail car to use on the proposed TEX Rail line. Sal DeAngelo, TRE chief mechanical officer, was laid off in September in what T officials say was a cost-cutting move.