(From the Post oak newsletter June 2016)
Arlington is a rather unusual city in that the Transportation Department is part of the Public Works Department. This is not a secret: It is painted on all the departmental vehicles. The arrangement makes it fairly clear that the major point for transportation in Arlington is street reconstruction, street widening, and new street construction. After all, the average home in Arlington has more than two cars.
The one bright side of road reconstruction that I see in Arlington is that new neighborhood streets are being built about 3 feet narrower than the ones they are replacing. That would probably mean a reduction in rain runoff on those streets. The downside is that the grass strips between the sidewalk and roadways are 50% larger and can mean that much more area for maintenance.
The biggest negative for the widening of major streets here in Arlington is greatly increased surface area for rain runoff. Major streets were two or four lanes 30 years ago when I first moved here. Now most of those streets are six or seven lanes wide, and many in the future will be at least six lanes. As we anticipate new road construction, we must consider how much more impervious surface we create when we increase the width of roadways.
Right now in Arlington we have little choice about increasing roadways because we constantly need more for the thousands of cars, SUVS, motorcycles and trucks to get around in and out of our city.
A city study on transportation in Arlington indicated that 100% of South Arlington was congested and the remainder of the city was nearing the same thing.
I can remember in the late ’80s when they added a new lane on each side of Hwy 360 to make it a 6-lane freeway. How excited we were, thinking how much easier it would be once that was completed. The first day the new lanes opened, traffic on 360 was even worse because everybody was thinking the same thing and planned on using that highway.
In any kind of problem situation, the first thing we have to do is admit that we have a problem. We must admit that Arlington (really, the entire metroplex) has a mobility problem.
I have heard it said over and over that there is no way we can build our way out of this problem.
One other major point is that Arlington is still in growth mode. Our estimated population has grown 4.9% since 2010. We are looking at a population of over 400,000 by 2020.
Other than driving our own cars, Arlington currently has five alternatives:
- One is what Mission Arlington is doing: a ride-to-work program and pickup service for the most needy people they serve.
- Some hotels, primarily in the entertainment district, have their trolley service for hotel guests.
- UT Arlington has its own bus service for students primarily on campus and remote parking.
- The city has HandiTran Service for seniors and the handicapped.
- Finally, we have the Metro Arlington Express which runs with two Arlington stops and the Centre Port TRE Station. The MAX is in its third year of service and is intended for the general public. Five dollars will take you to either Dallas or Fort Worth and is good on the T and Dart — basically an all-day pass to anywhere Dart or T goes and back. For anyone who doesn’t know, the bus picks up at the corner of Border/UTA Blvd and Center Street. Plus there is a stop in front of Pep Boys on the west and just south of the Wendy’s on the east side of Collins. The nice thing about the stop at Centre Port is that it is the first bus stop slot on the west side of the TRE station. One last thing: Those over 65 and all students from elementary to college who get the proper pass ID card can ride all day for half price.
This is where we are today.
Alternative transportation is a big topic in the whole Dallas-Fort Worth area. Despite efforts to maintain the current lack of transit here in Arlington and our connection to the rest of the metro area, we are seeing several possible short-term solutions as well as some for the long term. In the past we had looked at only local transit systems to get around the city, and people who opposed them were successful in blocking those goals. But in a way they probably did the rest of the city a favor. They have given up the opportunity to look regionally for our transportation needs.
It should be common knowledge that the majority of the residents in Arlington work in other areas of the metroplex. Until we started the MAX service, pretty much the only way was driving ourselves, or if we were lucky, being able to car pool with others. I would bet that we are the only city of our size that doesn’t even have Greyhound service. (The station closed its doors seven years ago.)
Planners are now looking at services that would include stops here in Arlington for the new Dallas-to- Houston Fast Rail Express System. Additional stops that we are trying to finance would include DFW Airport, our entertainment district, and downtown Fort Worth. Not currently announced are the future plans to extend that fast rail service to Austin and San Antonio.
Fort Worth T officials are proposing expansion services that would include stops here in Arlington that could happen with special financing other than a half-cent sales tax election.
There are also studies on TREtype service through the center of the metroplex that would include several stops in Arlington and Grand Prairie, connecting Dallas and Fort Worth more directly. There have been studies and group meetings about all the possibilities for the future of transportation in the metroplex. Some of them may become reality and others may not. But whatever the future of transportation holds for Arlington, I hope that people, whether they have no car or five cars parked at their house, will understand that we cannot exist as a growing city and community without a strong mobility alternative to what we have now.