DART's Rapid Growth Attributed to Commitment to Innovation
In less than 20 years, the Dallas Area Rapid Transit System has grown into the longest light-rail system in North America, with 90 miles of revenue track and 62 stations.
"We opened our starter segment of the light rail system in 1996, and we have grown steadily ever since," said Timothy McKay, Executive Vice President of DART growth and Regional Development. "Today, DART's 13- city service area covers 700 square miles and provides 111 million passenger trips annually on its multi-modal transit system of 35 miles of commuter rail, streetcars, paratransit and vanpool, and 120-plus bus routes."
Comparatively, the New York City Subway, one of the world's longest, includes more than 650 miles of revenue track. However, when Dallas was celebrating DART's 10th anniversary in 2006, NYC was celebrating its subway system's centennial.
"The fact that we delivered the longest light rail system in North America since the first section opened in 1996 is incredibly quick by any standards," said Gary Thomas, DART President and Chief Executive Officer.
Such a feat has been possible because of the commitment to innovation - in funding, technology, partnering and project delivery methods - that has been a hallmark of DART since its beginning.
Additionally, DART projects have gone extremely well overall, Thomas said, with minimal change orders, and projects have opened consistently on schedule, and typically under budget.
That is due in large part to the DART team's ability to determine which project delivery method worked best for each project and to utilize different delivery opportunities as they became available, Thomas said.
"There was some on-the-job training, best practices opportunities to be incorporated and lessons learned," he added. "We had good teams - good design-build teams and good construction manager general contractor teams."
The first time a DART project came in significantly under budget was with construction of the North Central and Garland Red and Blue Line extensions, Thomas recalled.
"That project was six months early and roughly 10 percent under budget," he said. "That was in the 2002 time frame, and at that time, there weren't many projects in the public sector that were coming in under budget."
DART spent a great deal of time justifying the cost estimates, but with the help of the Federal Transit Association (FTA), was able to keep that cost savings in the region.
"Our challenge at that time was to continue that trend of delivering on schedule and under budget," Thomas said. "Tim McKay and his staff have done an incredible job identifying lessons learned and cost modifiers."
Making the Most of Alternatives
The DART team has used literally every construction approach available to ensure it continually delivers projects on schedule or early, and within budget.
"We take a great deal of pride in the fact that our projects continually come in on time and within budget, which is very unusual for public transportation projects," McKay said. "DART may have been the first transit and transportation project to use design-build."
Design-build is a project delivery method in which both design and construction services are contracted by a single entity.
The first time DART used design-build was for the conversion of the facilities on the Orange Line from diesel to compressed natural gas in TKTKT, McKay said. DART also used design-build to deliver the first three extensions of the Orange Line, as well as the Blue Line extension to the east, all on time and within budget.
DART also used design-build to deliver the extension of the Orange Line to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport four months ahead of schedule and under budget.
The 14-mile Orange Line runs parallel with DART's Green Line through Downtown Dallas to Bachman Station in Northwest Dallas. From Bachman Station, the Orange Line heads northwest to the Las Colinas Urban Center (opened July 2012) continues to Belt Line (opened December 2012) and to DFW Airport (opened August 2014).
"We used Construction Manager/General Contractor (CM/GC) for the first time on the Green Line in 2005," McKay said.
The CM/GC project delivery method allows an owner to engage a construction manager during the design process to provide constructability input.
Currently, DART is using the CM/GC project delivery method to extend the Blue Line south for 3 miles to the University of North Texas at Dallas. Originally scheduled to completion in 2019, DART accelerated the schedule by three years for a 2016 completion by using CM/GC.
"No one of those methods is a panacea or a one-size-fits-all," Thomas said. "We look at the market place to determine the best solution. On the Orange Line, we chose design-build because it provided a combination for project delivery time, competition and innovation. That helped to keep cost down.
"We chose not to use design-build for the extension to the UNT campus because the project area interfaces with so many facilities. We switched up to CM/GC to have more control over cost and time management."
Stretching the Funding
Additionally, DART is constantly working to utilize innovative funding models for transportation projects.
"When we built the Orange Line DFW Airport extension, the airport built the station at the terminal," Thomas said. "That pioneering partnership with the airport, the T (Fort Worth Transit Authority), the City of Irving, the FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) and FTA made it possible for DART to be one of the few American transit systems with a direct rail connection to a major airport."
Service began April 13th on an extension of the M-Line, a new heritage trolley line that connects downtown Dallas and north Oak Cliff between Union Station and the Oak Cliff intersection of Colorado Boulevard and Beckley Avenue, near Methodist Dallas Medical Center.
The $50 million project is the result of a unique partnership between the owner, which is the City of Dallas, the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCG), the funding conduit and DART, which will operate the line. The FTA awarded a TIGER grant in the amount of $26 million to the NCTCG, and local highway funds kicked in another $16 million. An additional $3 million in stimulus money, along with the allocation of regional toll road revenues and other funding, combined to fund the project.
"This project was one of the first in which we've partnered with the City of Dallas, and the first federal grantee ever to be completed within the funding window," McKay said.
DART served as the owner's technical representative on the project and used design-build to speed project delivery time.
"The entire project took about two years for design and construction," McKay said.
The vintage looking streetcars, designed by Brookville Equipment Corp. of Brookville, Pennsylvania, are dual mode, which means they are capable of operating both through an overhead catenary, electric wire contact system and also two, 550-volt batteries.
"When operating off of the overhead wire, the streetcars use the power for propulsion, and the excess power charges the battery," McKay explained.
Brookville's dual-mode design enabled DART to speed up the project schedule by about 12 months.
The line traverses the Houston Street Viaduct, a 101-year-old bridge that crosses the Trinity River, and travels through several historic districts, McKay explained. "We had a hard time with the project scheduling, imagining how we would get through all the discussions, historic approvals and environmental reviews necessary to use the overhead catenary in some of those areas."
Brookville's dual-mode design affords an easy, seamless way for the streetcars to transition from overhead to battery without negatively impacting the integrity or aesthetics of the bridge or historic neighborhoods.
"What was really unique about that project was the partnering between the funding partners, owners and government entities," Thomas said. "The fact that it was funded, constructed and now operates in a timely manner is pretty amazing."
Moving forward, DART will continue to explore innovative funding opportunities.
"We are looking at different funding partners - whether that's the FTA, Texas Department of Transportation or other entities," Thomas said. "We are also looking at different, interim pieces that will solve our issues of flexibility in increasing capacity, such as extending platforms to we can run three-car trains rather than two. It all boils down to how we can build these projects most efficiently and come up with the right funding sources for maximum opportunity."
Enhancing the Economy
DART has been a huge force in sparking economic development in the Dallas area.
"It's critical for us to pay attention to how we can capture the value of a particular corridor," Thomas said. "Many times corridors are developed for transportation infrastructure and economic development follows."
According to a 2014 study by UNT's Center for Economic Development and Research, an estimated $127 million annually in state and local tax revenues are the direct result of transit-oriented development (TOD). The UNT study further indicates that future DART expansion will generate $5.6 billion of private-capital, TOD projects as a result of DART expansions since 2003.
"This type of public-private connection also adds value to the destinations," McKay said. "That generates additional property taxes and, in many cases, additional sales taxes. Both of those are particularly important to us since more than 75 percent of our revenue comes from the 1 percent sales tax collected in the 13 cities we serve."
This past February, Texas Central Railway announced that is had selected two potential candidate sites for the Dallas high-speed rail stations, and DART is closely watching those developments.
"We're very excited about high speed rail opportunities," Thomas said. "I think it's high time the U.S. caught up with the rest of the world, and we're excited that Dallas will be the first. From DART's perspective, 30 percent or more of the people getting off the high-speed train in Houston and Dallas will be looking for public transit options to complete their trip. Our challenge is to make that transition as seamless as possible."
It's critical that high-speed rail travelers not only connect to DART service, but that they connect to a number of DART service options, McKay added.
"When you look at high-speed rail around the world, it typically terminates at points with easy access to subway systems, city buses, cabs, commuter rail and a variety of transportation options, so people can get anywhere they need to go quickly and easily," he said. "It's not just enough to drop off 1,200 people somewhere. You've got to make it possible for them to complete their trip."
A Decades-Long Plan
To ensure the transportation system's continued growth is comprehensive and efficient, DART is revising its 2040 Update Vision Plan.
The 2030 plan was approved by DART's board in 2006, when the economy was strong and getting stronger. By 2009, the economy had changed drastically.
"In 2009 we realized that some of the projects had to be moved out in our 20-year financial plan to make sure we still had the right priorities, the right list of projects, so we updated the plan," Thomas said. "Again, we are starting with a comprehensive analysis of our business operations and looking at where it makes sense for rail extension projects, with an emphasis on the second alignment through downtown Dallas' central corridor and possible interim phases to relieve capacity and provide flexibility."
DART anticipates completing its 2040 Update Vision Plan by the summer of 2016.
For almost two decades, DART has successfully assembled a high-performing team that consistently delivers products and service to the citizens of North Texas in a timely, efficient manner, Thomas said. "DART is a safe, reliable system that gives people a good alternative to getting in their car everyday, and it's the team, the people, that make that happen."
Although leading that team has been challenging at times, it's also been one of the most rewarding experiences of his life, McKay added. "We provide choices for people and opportunities for them to have a better quality of life. At the end of the day, the projects are about more than bricks and mortar. They are about how you affect people's lives and give them choices."