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March 08, 2013

Bill would let Arlington join Dallas Area Rapid Transit

Dartequipment@gdickson

A bill has been filed that would make it possible for Arlington to join Dallas Area Rapid Transit.

Senate Bill 1461 by state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, would clear up confusion about what cities are eligible to join the agency, which operates more than 90 miles of light rail, co-owns the Trinity Railway Express and runs a massive bus system. The bill specifies that a city is eligible to join a transit authority if any part of the city "is located in a county that is adjacent to a county in which the authority has territory."

 DART is headquartered in Dallas County, next door to Arlington in Tarrant County.

A companion bill, HB 3642, was filed in the House by state Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving. The bills were filed Thursday and Friday, just before the deadline for non-emergency and non-local bills during the legislative session.

Arlington and DART officials are courting each other these days. Arlington later this year hopes to roll out bus service between its downtown area and the TRE's CentrePort train station, in a two-year pilot project funded by business leaders and the University of Texas at Arlington.

DART, meanwhile, is aggressively seeking new cities to enter its fold. Arlington is an obvious choice, with more than 300,000 residents and a reputation as the nation's largest city without full-fledged transit service.

But Arlington voters have rejected transit three times since 1980. Even so, DART and the T are proposing to run Arlington's two-year bus service for just $700,000 a year - if Arlington agrees to hold an election asking residents to join DART within four years.

Under current law cities must be in the same county where DART is located, or adjacent to a current DART  city. There was some sentiment that DART can already claim to be located in Tarrant County, since the agency co-owns the TRE and makes daily runs from Fort Worth to Dallas.

Also, DART owns the Cotton Belt railroad tracks in Fort Worth, where the proposed TEX Rail line is tentatively scheduled to begin operating in 2016.

But DART officials are seeking clarity to ensure they can bring Arlington and perhaps other Metroplex cities into the fold, DART board member Mark Enoch of Rowlett said.

"We have assets in Tarrant County, with the TRE. We have liabiilty there, employees there," he said. "But one of the issues we're looking at it, we're asking legislators to clear up that law."

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