Questions surround expensive Dallas streetcar project

Print
Email
|

by JONATHAN BETZ

WFAA

Posted on July 1, 2011 at 10:29 PM

Updated Saturday, Jul 2 at 9:57 AM

DALLAS — Work is moving forward on a large streetcar project that developers call the “exclamation point” for Uptown Dallas.

The McKinney Avenue Transit Authority is building a turntable near the CityPlace West DART station that will rotate its streetcars.

“I think it’s going to be tremendous,” said John Landrum, MATA’s chief operating officer. “I think it will become iconic for the area, much like San Francisco.”

Officials are comparing it to San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square, where crowds gather to watch streetcars turn around.

However, the $668,000 project is also raising eyebrows. All four of MATA’s streetcars can be driven in either direction and don’t need to be rotated. The operator simply makes a few simple changes, such as moving some of the steering levers to the opposite end. 

“If we have time, we’ll probably use the turntable to show people how it works, but it’s not necessary,” said MATA operator Charles Chambers. 

When the turntable opens in December, it will be the focal point of a $12 million park. The funding is from a combination of Uptown Public Improvement District funds and tax increment financing from nearby property taxes. The system doesn’t charge fares, but instead relies on a combination of funding sources, including receiving $350,000 a year from DART.

“I don’t think it will make a big difference for riders,” said Jeff Christophersen. 

The risk analyst rides the trolley daily to work downtown.

“As far as the bottom line, I think it will probably be s waste of money right now," he said.

He would prefer to see the money be used to extend the service or promote the 22-year-old system.

“I ride the trolley every day and at most I’ve seen 10 people riding," Christophersen said. "That’s the most I’ve ever seen."

Directors, however, insist the turntable will allow them more flexibility as they expand their fleet.  Ridership is up nine percent so far this year. Last year, MATA carried 309,000 passengers on its trolleys.  

MATA is also currently planning on expanding the streetcar line a mile through downtown. The $15 million project will loop a trolley line around the Arts District down Olive Street to Bryan and eventually connect with the current line on St. Paul Street.

“We’re building [the turntable] because the opportunity is there to build it now," Landrum said. "The funding and the project is already there as part of this park system. What this turntable will do is increase the scope of vehicles we’re able to acquire and restore to operate on this system.’

The system uses only vintage streetcars it restored. Some date back 102 years. Volunteers are currently restoring two more streetcars to add to the service, but both of them are also double-ended.

MATA does have three single-ended cars in storage it eventually hopes to use. However, money must first be raised to restore them.

“There is a very large supply of vintage streetcars that can be operated from one end,” said Landrum, adding that double-ended trolleys are hard to find. He estimates building a new streetcar would cost nearly $1 million, while restoring a vintage trolley only costs around $350,000.

Print
Email
|