Taking a holistic approach to improving our transportation network is one of the things that makes DART a leader in the transit industry. But securing federal funding for a new transportation project is a balancing act: How much can local taxpayers afford? How much can be subsidized by the federal government? What type of transit is needed to address local capacity, safety, reliability, and flexibility concerns?
The answers to these questions are vital. The goal is to find the sweet spot between what our region needs, what it can afford, and what the federal government is willing to allocate to D2 and other projects.
Competing for Ratings
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) assigns a grade to each proposed project based on its strength and viability relative to other proposals being reviewed. Factors include the stage of project development, the timeline and size of the project, the type of grant being requested, and a series of other FTA-issued ratings, such as project cost, age and size of the system, and capacity needs.
The most recent D2 proposal submitted to the FTA received a medium-high rating for a Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) with a total project cost of $650 million and a 50/50 funding split. A medium-high rating means DART is in good shape to receive the funding requested for D2. The size of DART’s request also helps the agency be competitive as it seeks federal funds for the extension of 28 light rail platforms and the City of Dallas applies for federal funds to support an expanded Dallas Streetcar network.
But FTA grades aren’t static — and pursuing a more expensive design option isn’t as simple as asking the federal government for more money. New FTA evaluations would be required if the project changes significantly in either scope or cost. The FTA could issue a lower rating, which could make the project less competitive and potentially limit the amount of federal funds D2 receives. The FTA already evaluates the project annually and those reviews could also change the score.
Thinking Bigger than Just D2
The second rail alignment through downtown Dallas will be a critical infrastructure asset as North Texas grows. D2 will not only inject new energy into the Dallas Central Business District, but will also make all of North Texas a stronger center for commerce and development.
However, the funding parameters for DART’s program of interrelated projects are still uncertain. DART has put forward a conservative proposal for D2 to increase the probability that we will receive sufficient funding for it along with the other two projects that, in turn, will make us a stronger, more connected region.