Irving, DART debate details of Orange Line

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by By BRANDON FORMBY / The Dallas Morning News

wfaa.com

Posted on November 8, 2009 at 1:00 AM

Updated Thursday, Nov 12 at 12:09 PM

As Irving and DART officials debate details needed to keep the planned Orange Line on track, one line has already been drawn in the sand: Irving won't consider allowing the transit agency to put a lien on its prized Texas Stadium site.

The matter is one of many being hashed out in public meetings and memos between officials in what both sides say is anything but a battle. Instead, they say the back-and-forth on final particulars can mean only one thing: The Orange Line, scheduled to link downtown Dallas to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport by 2013, is coming to life at last.

"We're really down to the last handful of things that we have to work out," said Timothy McKay, DART's senior vice president for rail program development. "We're pushing really hard to get those things worked out because we don't want to delay our construction."

Still, these final items include some critical pieces of the massive $1.5 billion project that will connect downtown Dallas to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. In all, land acquisitions for the project were initially estimated to cost about $20 million. That estimate now stands near $40 million.

The DART board earlier this month agreed to pay more than $6 million for a piece of land owned by Verizon. The tract is among the final rights of way needed and was the impetus of the Texas Stadium lien idea. DART officials say that Irving should eventually reimburse the transit agency for the Verizon land and that, until then, the city should provide a lien as security. Irving sees things differently.

"Whenever you have an agreement, there are different reads by different parties," McKay said.

DART and Irving entered into an agreement in 2002 after the city successfully lobbied the transit agency to alter the Orange Line's route. The change, which brought the alignment through the stadium site and the heart of Las Colinas, created a $90 million funding gap.

DART agreed to pick up $30 million of that. Irving agreed to be responsible for the other $60 million. Irving officials estimate that in 2009 dollars, the city's responsibility should be about $81 million.

But they also estimate that the city has secured rights of way, cost savings and funding sources worth more than $150 million. They think DART should credit the city for those amounts before expecting payment for the Verizon land or a lien on the stadium.

"We believe working through the interlocal agreement should cover and make up these costs," said Jim Cline, Irving's public works director.

In a letter sent to DART officials last month, Cline also debated a cost increase to a station in Las Colinas. City leaders consider the station crucial because it will connect Dallas to Las Colinas' Urban Center and tie into the automated people mover transit system.

Irving's contention is that certain elements aren't of high enough quality. Those include a screening wall that Irving officials think should be taller and plans for one elevator instead of two.

DART has said all changes can be made for $6.4 million. Irving has said the elements should have been part of the base design.

At a City Council work session last month, council member Rose Cannaday suggested that the agency doesn't treat its member cities equally.

"Dallas, when they make changes, there's no charge over there," she said. "When we make changes, we're paying triple, double."

At that same meeting, Cline recommended that council members should not frame their arguments from just a city perspective. He said they should also remind DART that a successful regional rail is one that gets people to and from the airport and throughout downtown Dallas.

In that vein, Mayor Herbert Gears said that DART shouldn't only credit Irving for its estimated contributions in excess of the $81 million. He said the transit agency should take some of Irving's contributions and consider them credits to fill a $328 million funding gap for Dallas' second downtown line. Dallas officials want that line to have a stop at that city's planned convention center hotel.

"We're going to support the D2 line, even going as far as saying these credits you should account to us, you can apply to that project, and we won't object to the fact that we were required to show an additional $81 million," Gears said.

It remains to be seen whether DART will accept that offering as part of the reconciliation of the interlocal agreement with Irving. Agency spokesman Morgan Lyons said the two parties are still resolving everything.

"We need to work together to do the right thing," Cline said. "And we've done that. Now, it's just a matter of accounting."

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