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Saturday, December 3, 2022
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DART Considering Distributing Millions in Excess Tax Money

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Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) | Image by ScrubbingIn

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Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) may make a one-time payout of $270 million in excess taxpayer funding to Dallas and 12 other North Texas cities to whom it provides bus, rail, and shared ride services. DART serves 700 square miles from Plano to Glenn Heights.

The money to be given to the cities consists of $55.2 million in taxpayer dollars recovered from a DART fund meant to make public transportation more accessible and $214.3 million in excess taxpayer dollars from 2019 to 2021.

DART relies on property taxes from its member communities. According to a spokesman for the agency, Gordon Shattles, the regional transit agency brought in more money than usual due to the disbursement of federal COVID-19 relief funds.

It is unclear why the $55.2 million from a DART fund that was to be used to make public transportation more accessible was diverted to the payout plan.

The DART board of directors is considering the deal, which covers cities on the condition that they use the funds on transportation-related projects. They could sign off on the deal as early as August.

In February, the agency’s rail and bus services were pared down due to icy conditions, but many riders were not informed about service suspensions. In March, DART president and CEO Nadine Lee said the agency was considering upgrades to its service to avoid future blindsiding of riders who rely on it.

According to Lee, DART would upgrade its public communication, light rail system, and criteria used to determine when to suspend service. Last month, DART officials said the agency is short 163 bus drivers, causing service delays and suspensions.

The decision has not been made yet, but the DART board plans to decide on the proposal before September when it will adopt the agency’s next budget.

At a July 12 meeting where the deal was brought up, some DART board members said the money could be used to improve the public transit system.

“We want to show that we hear you; we want to be good partners; we’re going to do things for the region, and we also want to fund things that are important to your municipality,” DART board member Rodney Schlosser said.

Other board members, like Hosanna Yemiru, said DART has pressing needs, and funneling money out of it might not be the best for the agency.

“There are elevators that don’t work [and] escalators that don’t work,” Yemiru said. “There are many, many things that we can be doing with this money that does not involve just giving it away.”

If the plan gets approved, agreements will be drafted with the 13 cities DART covers before the end of this year, and the money would be distributed by 2025.

It is unclear how much each city could receive; Shattles said that aspect is still being finalized.

“It’s still up in the air at this point. The goal would be to provide the cities the funds to be able to do things that would enhance public transportation,” Shattles said.

A Dallas spokeswoman said the City expects to receive about $134 million of the total amount. City officials are trying to decide on the wide array of things the extra money from DART could cover.

In a memo to Dallas City Council members on July 22, Assistant City Manager Robert Perez spoke about the city projects for which the money could be used. Among the dozen projects he listed are several proposals to improve DART’s infrastructure, such as improving bus shelters on routes with the longest wait times and paying for incentives for the agency to keep bus drivers.

The money could also partially cover the expenses of projects that are part of Dallas’ sidewalk master plan, which intends to address 2,046 miles of missing or broken sidewalks. In 2021, city officials said the costs of repairing 50% of the defective sidewalks and filling missing gaps could run up to $2 billion.

In addition, the City is looking to build ADA-compliant curb ramps on sidewalks around Dallas, a project estimated to cost $54 million.

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