Good morning, Chairman Reed. I am Kenneth Mayfield, county commissioner from Dallas County, Texas, and president-elect of the National Association of Counties (NACo)*. I very much appreciate the opportunity to testify today before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairís Subcommittee on Housing and Transportation on the topic of the reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) and more specifically on the federal transit program.
NACo has been a long time supporter of the federal transit program. County governments operate approximately one-third of the nationís transit systems. Transit, whether it is rail, bus or van --- urban, suburban or rural --- is an essential component of our transportation system. In many of our urban and suburban counties, it is congestion that is the motivating force behind the need to establish and fund a transit system. Environmental concerns and the transportation needs of the economically disadvantaged also drive transit. How we address congestion is probably the most important and difficult issue Congress will have to face in the reauthorization of TEA-21. Solutions
are elusive and complex. However, with congestion increasing, more vehicles on the roads, and commute times up, a reauthorization bill that does not seriously attack this problem would be flawed. County officials believe that transit has a key role to play in addressing the congestion crisis.
NACo applauded the actions in Congress and specifically in the Senate Banking Committee during debate surrounding TEA-21 that lead to a significant increase in funding for the federal transit program. The forty per cent increase in transit funding has been extremely helpful to NACo members as well as other local governments that operate and have expanded their transit systems. Including a guaranteed funding requirement for transit has been key and we urge that this be continued in the reauthorization along with the general fund contribution. Elected county officials across the country are hearing from their constituents that transit is important and in many urban and suburban communities rail systems are being proposed. While I am sure that not every plan will result in a system, there is a demand out there that requires a larger federal transit program.
Dallas is one of the communities that has greatly benefited from the federal transit program and from the increase in funding we experienced in TEA-21. Our light rail system ridership last year was 11.5 million passenger trips. Since our system opened in 1996, we have had well over 50 million passenger trips. Currently, DART is undertaking the largest light rail expansion program in North America.
Dallas has experienced explosive growth over the last several decades along with the resulting congestion. In the late 1970ís a number of forward thinking community leaders proposed an area-wide transit system for Dallas and Ft. Worth. However, it was too expensive, too soon, and not well thought out. When it went to the voters, it lost big time. Some people thought at that time the anti-transit sentiment in Dallas would never change, just like the winning ways of the Cowboys. They were wrong. In 1983, a referendum was passed in Dallas and individual cities throughout Dallas, Collin and Denton counties that approved a one-cent sales tax dedicated to the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) for public transit.
With the passage of the sales tax, a funding source was created that lead to investment in light-rail, bus service improvements, commuter rail, HOV lanes and carpooling. There are thirteen individual communities that are part of DART. Even though the sales tax was passed in 1983 and tax collection began in 1984, it was not until 1996 that light rail opened in Dallas. From 1983 until 1996, most communities and citizens stuck with the promise of transit and continued paying into the system. Our 20-mile light rail starter system has exceeded everyoneís expectations in terms of ridership and economic development. While developers waited until the system was complete to begin investments, they are now fully engaged in operating major projects around many of the systems 23 stations. The starter system cost $860 million and was built on time and on budget. Incidentally, that $860 million includes everythingórails, cars, and a three-mile tunnel from downtown Dallas to Mockingbird Lane. The one-cent sales tax paid for 80 per cent of the starter system and the federal transit program paid for the restó$160 million.
An additional 23 miles of light rail will be opening this year. The 11.2 miles Northeast Light Rail Extension goes from Dallas to Garland. The North Central Extension will serve parts of Dallas and Collin counties by reaching out to Richardson and Plano. The passage in August 2000 of a bond proposal will dramatically accelerate additional light rail expansion through 2010. Seventy-seven per cent of those voting supported this bond proposal, another example of the broad support the light rail system has in our community. These two new projects together cost $992 million of which 66 per cent was raised locally. However, I must emphasize that without the $333 million in federal new start funds, we could not have moved ahead.
While economic development followed DARTís starter light rail system, the success of that system made believers out of the development community. Rather than taking a "wait and see" view, developers have jumped in and have already built a number of projects adjacent to the two new lines. At Galatyn Park a new 11-story hotel has been constructed next to the light-rail station and in downtown Plano high-end apartments with extensive retail space have been opened. To date, over $1 billion has been invested in private development along DARTís existing and future light rail lines. A University of North Texas study projects DARTís current expansion program and operations will pump $3.7 billion into the regional economy and support approximately 32,000 jobs through 2003. Between 1996 and 1998, taxable values for property near light rail stations were about 25 per cent higher than comparable properties not served by rail. Downtown Dallas residential and commercial development has experienced an upswing with the advent of transit.
Rather than being perceived as being in competition with highway building, these projects complement our highway system in Dallas. The North Central line parallels the North Central Expressway where TXDOT is currently undertaking a huge interchange project known as the High-Five Project. Our new light rail system is opening at the right time to give commuters an alternative to the congestion that is inevitably being created by this large construction project. And that is how we view transit in Dallasóas a transportation alternative.
We do have plans for additions to the DART system. The Southeast Line would extend 10.2 miles to Fair Park and Pleasant Grove, all within Dallas County, by 2008. The 17.5 mile Northwest Line will go along the I-35 corridor to Denton County by 2008, including a stop at Love Field. A 13-mile branch of this line will go to Las Colinas and on to Dallas-Forth Worth Airport by 2010. While we will continue our policy of a local overmatch, we will need federal funding for both these projects.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my testimony. I would be happy to answer any questions you or other members of the subcommittee may have.
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