Dallas Transit Chief Calls for Federal Infrastructure Funding

Dallas Area Rapid Transit president Gary Thomas highlighted the need for Congress to pass a comprehensive federal infrastructure bill Monday, pointing to regional projects and their potential to reduce congestion.

Dallas Area Rapid Transit president Gary Thomas on Monday urged Congress to deliver a far-reaching infrastructure bill, joining other public transit leaders in stressing the importance of funding billions of dollars in improvements.

Speaking at news conference hosted by the American Public Transportation Association, Thomas said it was "imperative" to "supply the needs of the American people."

He offered up a few upcoming DART projects to make his case: the Cotton Belt commuter rail line; platform extensions on the Red and Blue lines; rail replacement in downtown Dallas; and "D2," the long-awaited second rail alignment through the city center.

"As we look at the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the country and one of the fastest growing areas in the country, we're constantly looking at how we continue to address the congestion issues," he said.

This is not the first time Thomas and other transit leaders have pressed lawmakers for action.

The notion of an expansive infrastructure bill is a perennial favorite in Washington. Both Republicans and Democrats from all over the U.S. tend to like the idea, which would address the widely documented problem of America's overstressed roads, bridges and railways.

But Congress has yet to act on the matter since President Donald Trump took office, in part because there is deep disagreement on how to pay for it all.

Transit leaders on Monday nevertheless expressed optimism that there was a legit chance — for real, this time — to soon pass an infrastructure package, with Thomas singling out Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, for praise on the issue.

"We'll continue to work with the entire delegation, but those are the folks we're going to look to for leadership," he said.

Much of the attention around a potential infrastructure bill gets tied to highways and other car-centric projects. The American Public Transportation Association is hoping to change that dynamic.

The group is seeking put to put a brighter spotlight on the public transportation element of such legislation by identifying more than $230 billion in mass transit projects that could benefit from an infrastructure bill. A big chunk of those projects would address a backlog of needed repairs.

The list might be somewhat overstated, since it includes, for instance, a couple of DART projects already moving forward.

But Thomas said the D2 project, with its targeted opening date of 2024, is a $1.4 billion endeavor that could really benefit from a robust infrastructure package. He also said he'd like to see any future legislation "include a much heavier emphasis on technology."

The DART chief noted the success his agency has had with its GoPass app, which is a planning and ticketing tool.

He said that "transit agencies, public agencies of any kind, are risk averse — none us want to get out there and get slapped around because it didn't work." Incentives could encourage more agencies to be more aggressive in trying out new technology and approaches, he said.