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February 25, 2013

Fort Worth Transportation Authority (the T) picks new leaders


Businessman Scott Mahaffey was elected chairman of the newly reformed Fort Worth Transportation Authority board.

The nine-member board - meeting on its own for the first time Monday afternoon -  held a paper ballot. Six members voted for Mahaffey, two for Carter Burdette and one for Neftali Ortiz.

Mahaffey pledged to be an active leader, and to be accessible by phone or in person to other board members. "We will be an inclusive board, where everybody has a seat at the table," he said. "We have a massive job in front of us. A lot is expected of us from citizens. A lot is expected of us from the City Council."

Before the vote, Mahaffey and Burdette made brief comments of less than a minute, touting their business and civic experience. Ortiz took another tact, using a 10-minute Power Point presentation that laid out how he would restructure the T and accomplish goals years ahead of schedule.

In all, choosing a chair took nearly 25 minutes, with board members going through an unusual paper ballot procedure. The matter was further delayed when some board members realized they had the wrong agenda folders.

The T board, with eight new members appointed by Fort Worth and the ninth member appointed by Tarrant County, then took about another hour to go through a regular agenda.

Items approved by the board included:

  • A $600,000 change order to consulting firm CH2M Hill for management of the proposed TEX Rail commuter line. The change was needed because in December, the previous T board agreed to use a new, more modern type of rail car known as a diesel multiple unit, and the T's in-house staff needed outside expertise to understand how to procure the new vehicles.
  • Approval of a memorandum of understanding with the Fort Worth City Council designed to improve the board's transparency and satisfy council members that progress is being made on the region's transit goals. The city particularly wants to ensure that the TEX Rail project, a proposed 37-mile line cutting diagonally across Tarrant County from southwest Fort Worth to the north end of DFW Airport, opens by 2016.
  • A legislative report from the T's government affairs expert, Shawna Russell, who sought to assuage concerns that the federal government's impending sequestration - a cut of roughly $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years, if Congress and President Obama can't reach a resolution - will hamper public transportation. Instead, she said, transit is typically paid for out of the highway fund, which is somewhat separate from other parts of the federal budget.

"One bright source for us is the majority of our funding is secured and not affected," Russell told the board. She did say it was possible that the T's application for federal funds for TEX Rail could be stalled if the federal cut affect staffing at the Federal Transit Administration, which is currently reviewing the T's application.



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