Dallas high-speed rail approval should not hold transportation funds hostage – The Dallas Morning News

The transportation department of the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) has a case of tunnel vision when it comes to high-speed rail between Dallas and Fort Worth.

In a recent presentation, staff of the regional council laid out the different transportation projects they would be funding for the year across North Texas. Curiously, seven out of the 10 projects within Dallas’ city limits will only receive funding from the NCTCOG if city officials agree to the “high-speed rail ‘one seat ride’ concept” and the “sitting plans for [the] future station.”

As we’ve written previously, the high-speed rail project is constantly evolving. Dallas City Council members have said that they do support high-speed rail, but want to see clear maps and plans before they make any final decisions. Withholding funding for unrelated transportation projects seems like a bad-faith way to build consensus for a high-speed rail project that is still not fully planned out.

Most of the seven projects have been on the drawing board for a while. A road with sidewalks and bike lanes under the Union Pacific railroad to connect West Dallas to downtown is partially funded by the city’s 2012 bond program. Other projects like sidewalk and intersection improvements around Forest Theater, pedestrian infrastructure and a right-turn lane at the intersection of Frankford Road and the Dallas North Tollway, and the pedestrian deck over Interstate 30 have also secured a smattering of federal and local grants. Regional toll-road funds that NCTCOG could provide would fill an important gap created by high construction costs.

Michael Morris, director of transportation for the NCTCOG, said that city of Dallas officials have been supportive of high-speed rail for 10 years, but are wavering now. He added that many of the seven projects were considered for funding late in the process. “Why are we bending over backwards to help fund projects that aren’t really our responsibility,” Morris said when asked about the contingency.

NCTCOG may be stepping in to fund projects that the city was initially going to pursue on its own, but as a metropolitan planning organization, it is its job to distribute funds to fill in those gaps. And it’s an oversimplification to think that the city council’s approval of high-speed rail should continue without question. In those 10 years, the project has changed considerably from a Dallas-to-Houston train spearheaded by a private company to two different projects, one between Dallas and Fort Worth being planned by NCTCOG and another section to Houston being undertaken by Amtrak.

Members of NCTCOG’s regional transportation council who voted to pass the funding plan, including the contingency, should have considered a one-month hold on the Dallas projects proposed by council members Cara Mendelsohn and Jesse Moreno. That modest delay would have given the council a chance to hear the presentation on March 6 and get more answers about the high-speed rail project before agreeing to a vague and unfair contingency.

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