Updated at 3:35 p.m. to delete a disputed quote from Andre McEwing.
Fort Worth Transportation Authority president Dick Ruddell made his first public appearance since the City Council replaced eight of his nine board members, and pledged to work with the new leadership on speeding up the TEX Rail commuter rail project.
“Sometimes change is necessary to embrace big projects and accomplish goals,” Ruddell said during a half-hour presentation to the Rotary Club of Fort Worth. “I stand ready to help this community in any way I can.”
One new board member, Andre McEwing of southeast Fort Worth, said before the luncheon the city was entering a new era that featured strong political support for improved public transportation. With that mandate and some elbow grease, he said, the new board should be able to get the proposed TEX Rail commuter line from southwest Fort Worth to Grapevine and Dallas Fort Worth Airport back on track.
Last week, Mayor Betsy Price and the City Council announced they would replace the T board, and also ask the new board to hire a T executive with rail experience.
Ruddell, who has served as the T’s chief executive since 2003, gave a presentation to the Rotary Club explaining the T’s role in providing mass transit in Fort Worth and Richland Hills. The services include buses, bike sharing and the Trinity Railway Express, which operates in a partnership with Dallas Area Rapid Transit. But most of the presentation focused on TEX Rail, a project that is expected to cost nearly $1 billion.
T officials hope to begin TEX Rail service by 2016 between downtown Fort Worth and Dallas Fort Worth Airport, but the project has experienced a litany of delays related to station locations, a federal environmental study and the T’s ongoing negotiations with freight railroads to use their tracks.
Ruddell took a few questions from the crowd. Craig Schaefer, associate executive director of the National Cowgirl Museum in Fort Worth, said the area’s transportation planners need to expand their services to include areas currently not served. He questioned whether the T and DART should remain separate agencies, or perhaps be combined. “It seems to me this area is much bigger than Fort Worth, and to accomplish all these issues we need more than the Fort Worth Transportation Authority,” he said. “We need a regional transportation authority.”
Ruddell explained that the T operates on a half-cent sales tax, but many cities not served by the T don’t have the capacity to raise their sales taxes to join. Fort Worth and Richland Hills pay a half-cent to the T, and Grapevine pays 3/8-cent. But in the Dallas area, people in DART’s service area pay a 1-cent sales tax. The discrepancy among cities collecting various sales tax amounts for transportation – including dozens of cities in Tarrant County, Arlington among them, that have no sales tax dedicated to transit – makes it difficult to plan a region-wide system with a consistent service level.
Ruddell said he could envision a day when a single transit authority governed mass transit in all of North Texas, although he didn’t think it would happen for many years.