Developing a Region

April 20, 2015
Development in the Dallas-Fort Worth area has been huge and it’s paid off.

In Richardson, Texas, developers are beginning a $500 million mixed-use project next to the $1.5 billion CityLine development. CityLine is a transit-oriented development adjacent to the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) Bush Turnpike Station.

Transwestern is the commercial property firm that will manage the 186-acre CityLine development once it opens. Transwestern managing director Steve Williamson was recently quoted as saying, “The CityLine project is a game-changer for Richardson and access to DART and the amenity base should draw further activity to the area.”

KDC is the commercial real estate and investment company for CityLine. Steve Van Amburgh, chief executive officer for KDC, said, “Offering this kind of creative development to North Texans, adjacent to the DART light rail system, is what the work force of today is seeking and residents and visitors expect.”

The North Central Texas has the Denton County Transportation Authority (DCTA), DART, the Fort Worth Transportation Authority (The T) and Trinity Railway Express (TRE).

DCTA provides service to the public in the greater Lewisville, Highland Village and Denton area, and includes the A-Train, which provides connectivity to Dallas and Fort Worth.

DART provides service in Dallas and 12 surrounding cities with its extensive bus and rail network.

The Fort Worth Transportation Authority (The T) provides service in Tarrant County and is developing TEX Rail, a commuter railroad from downtown Fort Worth to the Dallas Fort Worth Airport.

TRE is a cooperative service provided by The T and DART to offer commuter rail service between Fort Worth and Dallas.

In development, the Texas Central Railway is a private, for-profit company promoting a high-speed rail line connecting Dallas and Houston.

Encouraging Development

The area around Denton County Transportation Authority’s (DCTA) Hebron Station in Lewisville has a lot of housing that continues to grow.  DCTA President Jim Cline said they’ve talked to developers and one of the reasons they got their loan is because it had transit access. He continued, “We’re not going to be land developers but part of the thing we can do with the services we provide … how can we encourage and sustain development.”

Putting a business twist on it, Cline said they’re in the business of being a value added proposition. “Think of it as stockholders. If our stockholders are getting dividends, increases in their portfolio value because we’re there, then that’s valuable.

“Bigger picture-wise, are we capturing the value for the community of which we’re a part versus it’s to DCTA proper and they’re cutting us a check?

“What can we do to make the … tax base increase, provide new opportunities for development, be a catalyst for development?” He added, “That’s the way we approach it; value capture can happen in a bunch of different ways.”

DART President/Executive Director Gary Thomas said it brings economic advantage to the region and economic advantage for the state in jobs. “You see an increase in sales tax dollars associated with these businesses, these manufacturing facilities and with these retail facilities,” he said. Talking of the KDC development he said, “All of a sudden you’re going to have this very significant jump in sales tax that’s going to positively impact DART, the city and the state.”

He said DART is the largest land owner adjacent to the stations and while today that looks like a parking lot, as the system continues to grow and densities start to increase around the stations, the parking lots can transition. “We can sell the land, we can develop the land ourselves or we can lease the land to a developer,” he explained. “That is another way for us to capture the value of our system and our assets.”

More Than TOD

Thomas said they’ve talked about Mockingbird Station and Cedar Station for a long time now and while those are cool transit-oriented development (TOD) projects, now it’s groups of projects that are changing cities.

“Mockingbird was one big thing, one big development, one developer that did one big thing,” he said. “When you go to downtown Plano … there wasn’t just one big project that came in and changed all of downtown Plano. A group of projects are continuing to be developed around that station that are continuing to change the way downtown Plano is.”

Thomas talked about a couple other areas where development has been robust. Along the light rail Orange Line the Irving Convention Center Station was opened out in a field about a half-mile away from the convention center. It wasn’t an empty field for long as that’s there Irving’s entertainment district is being built now.

The South Oak Cliff Blue Line Extension, opening in 2016, will extend the line about 2.6 miles toward the University of North Texas (UNT) Dallas Campus. Thomas explained it’s in an area looking for an identity and is a historically underserved part of the community. “There’s a lot of development opportunities in a part of town that is really looking for that boost.”

He said, “As we talk about these developments, they’re also relationships … these partnerships are centered arounde transportation infrastructure, alternative transportation infrastructure from a lot of people’s perspective, at least in Texas.

“It doesn’t have to be on the highway. It can be on transit and can be very effective.”

With any of the different developments happening around the area, Thomas said at the core of that all is transportation. “You have to be able to get in and get out.”

Financing Transit

Ingle said exploding growth was always anticipated for the region but what they didn’t consider was what to do with the surrounding cities that weren’t a part of a transit system. “In the next 20 years, 60 percent of the population of the DFW area will live outside the boundary of a transit agency, and we have three main ones here” she explained. “We just didn’t think big enough to being with about how do you incorporate these areas? How do you service them and how do you pay for it?”

While it was successful beyond what they had planned for or imagined, she said they’re struggling to figure out how to deal with the consequences of that.

Cline said it’s the reality, that there will be people using your system that are not paying their fair share. “I don’t sort out where you live based on what service we provide. Where does the subsidy come from?” He continued, “In our area it’s sales tax and farebox and formula grants.

“A bunch of people that don’t live in our area come to Costco, that don’t reside in one of the member cities. But we’re proud to collect the sales tax of Costco.”

Partnership Success

Contributing to success in the region is partnerships. Partnerships between transportation providers, public-private partnerships and public-public partnerships.

Thomas said, “It is imperative that the transportation organizations coordinate.” He elaborated, “We’ve all got our little fiefdom, out little silos, but the reality is, the person that is traveling, the person that is trying to get from Point A to Point B doesn’t care. They don’t care if it’s DART, they don’t care if it’s The T, they don’t care if it’s TexDOT, they don’t care if it’s Uber – they don’t care. They just want to get from Point A to Point B as efficiently as possible.”

He said what they’re really charged with as a public entity at the end of the day, is to make sure they all figure out how to make this as seamless as possible. And, to do it while being sensitive to the cities that are playing a large part of the revenue, for DART, the 13 cities inside its service area.

Cline stated, “Partnerships have been key to our success.” The Trinity Railway Express is a partnership between DART and The T.

“When we started service, we entered into a local agreement with DART that has the same contractor that does TRE, to operate our trains,” said Cline. “It’s been that way for almost four years and it’s worked really well. They’ve saved some money in insurance, dispatching, signal ops and railway maintenance equipment and it’s helped us financially –we’ve saved some money.

“That was a premiere example of what ‘right’ looks like.”

Another example is DART’s contract bus service in Mequite. The city started off doing contract service with DART and at one point said they were going to go to the local rural provider. They worked together and DART continued the contracted service, brought the rural provider into the mix and they created a joint arrangement.

“The benefit of that is we’ve got a coordinated system,” said Thomas. “We don’t have the DART system and then the rural provider in Mesquite doing something different and trying to work out the connectivity. Now, they’re a part of our contract; it all works together.”

Cline said, “When you look at regional cooperation, you do things that make sense. If you look for those opportunities, it’s amazing what you’ll find.”

One example he cited was the regional fare policy between DCTA, DART and The T and the mobile payment, GoPass. He said DART wanted to do something and took that on and brought them in at the front end. “DART is a bigger agency, clearly,” said Cline. “I think it’s a cost of one percent of our fares end up going to DART to recover costs; it’s quite reasonable.

“We need to work with our partners to set on fare so it’s easy for customers. It’s simple for customers and it presents a more – I don’t want to say unified front, but that’s probably the best way to put it,” Cline said.

He said, however, there are other things that are best left to each agency.

“There are some things that are local,” he explained. “Like, how do you run paratransit in Denton County is probably not something that we try to put some big umbrella over it and do that as an entire region.”

Thomas also talked of partnerships with other, new transportation companies. And, while some may see Uber or Lyft as a threat to transit, he looks at the situation differently.

“Some people do consider them the enemy. The challenge is,” he continued, “is they’re a very, very successful enemy, if you want to put them in an enemy category.

“Incredibly successful. And they’re doing some good things and for a segment of our population, they’re enamored by those kinds of transportation companies. It’s silly to sit here and try and figure out how to fight that.

“In my mind, it’s much more beneficial, again for our customers, how to embrace it. How do we make that work for us?”

One Piece of the Puzzle

A lot of things have to come together and transportation — including public transportation — has to work well within the community or region to create positive outcomes.

“I like to tell people … we’re a system of systems,” Cline explained. “If you look at the roads, the bus, the train, people walking, we’re part of that so we try to fit in where we can do the very best and own that part of the system. But we can’t do it without the other parts.”

Ingle said it’s about getting people on transit the first time to increase transit’s mode share as one part of that overall system. “When they try it, they like it,” she stated. “You have to overcome their objections and get them on the first time.”

While usage will grow organically through an aging population or Millennials driving less, but Ingle said there are some ways the area has been jumpstarting that increase in use.

One of the examples she cited was DCTA’s one-day festivals where for one day, they focused on seniors and hosted activities on station platforms where they would teach seniors how to read timetables, buy tickets, and how to get where they need to go.

“I think that’s a model we should be repeating with every age group,” Ingle stressed. “If they learn how to use it, they’ll come back.”

Thomas said, “We’ve seen a rebirth in transit around the country, certainly in North Texas, and just like any other business, you can’t sit here and be happy with where you are.

“We’ve got to constantly be looking ahead, constantly searching for how do we make this better? How do we do it better? How do we make the trip for our customers better next time, next week, next year, 10 years from now?”

Airport Connection

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) provides non-stop access to 148 U.S. and 51 international cities. As the fourth busiest U.S. airport and eighth busiest in the world, in 2013, DFW Airport served more than 60.4 million passengers and 652,300 tons of cargo.

The DART Orange Line is 14 miles that runs parallel with the Green Line through Downtown Dallas to Bachman Station, then northwest to the Las Colinas Urban Center, Belt Line and as of August 18, 2014, to DFW Airport’s Terminal A.

DFW Airport built the station while DART’s contractors were responsible for the rail line extension. “When you got to the station, you have two very large, very sophisticated contractors interfacing and coordinating their timing for all of that,” Thomas explained. “Coordinating all of that so it worked together because the station contractor was still doing their thing while the track contractor was trying to bring track in, put in overhead catenary and all of that.

“Our relationship with DFW Airport was great; from the top all the way throughout the organization, everybody was committed and focused on working together.” He added, “When I say that, that doesn’t mean we always agreed on everything but we worked together. 

“It really was a truly good partnership with DFW and continues to be.”

The station opened in mid-August, four months sooner than scheduled.  The first train arrived at DFW at 3:50 a.m.  in August 2014.

Sean Donohue, CEO of DFW Airport said, “With the DART Orange Line connecting DFW to downtown Dallas, DFW is now on a par with global hub airports that have integrated rail, which is a major selling point for customers and conventions.”

The airport DART station is less than a 3-minute walk to Terminal A entry doors and ticketing hall. Inside Terminal A is the American Airlines ticketing and baggage check, TSA security checkpoints and DFW’s Skylink people mover. There are also multi-airline kiosks in the elevator vestibule at Terminal A to check in to their flights.

Rider projections were it would be close to 1,200 trips a day after about a year of service and currently it is about 1,000 trips a day. They’re seeing employees and travelers and a lot of TSA employees as they get transit passes and free parking is not provided. The week of Thanksgiving, the third highest volume ticket vending machine in the DART system was at the airport.

At the regional level, the transportation directors from across the modes get together quarterly or so to talk about the issues that are happening and that helps everyone stay prepared.

Cline said they’ve had a couple of policy questions they’re thinking through with the DART-DFW connection. While they don’t encourage overnight parking, there are some that are flying out and leaving their cars overnight. “So there are some issues that we’re working through. It’s in the process … and when we get the demand, we’ll sort through how we deal with it.

“I see us allowing folks to park in the parking lots, certain ones, it certainly wouldn’t be the ones that have higher demands; it would be the larger lots.”

With the competitive advantage of a one-seat ride from the airport to downtown, the Dallas Regional Chamber and Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau have actively promoted it. Thomas said, “Quite frankly, both the chamber and the visitor’s bureau were so pumped up and so excited about the airport connection, I don’t know that we needed to say anything. I think they would have said it on their own.”