Ground is set to be broken on one of the most highly anticipated Tarrant County transportation projects in years. Soon, construction crews will be hard at work carving a path from Fort Worth to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport expected to be followed by thousands each day. But this time, they won't be laying concrete lanes. They will be developing a rail line that will serve the TEX Rail commuter service.
The commuter line will open new doors for residents of Tarrant County who need to travel to the airport or even the other side of the region. But it's just one piece of the system the Fort Worth Transportation Authority (FWTA) offers residents and businesses in the fast-growing county. There are bus routes, a commuter line jointly operated with Dallas Area Rapid Transit and the wildly popular Molly the Trolley.
As the region grows, it is important for FWTA to offer expanded service where it is needed. Agency officials spent a year meeting with residents throughout Tarrant County to determine what FWTA should focus on. In the age of smartphones and social media, where people can share their opinions with thousands of followers instantly, innovation was required to gather a diversity of opinions.
Officials drove a project bus to areas of the county that either lacked transit or had limited service and invited people to come aboard and provide input on the transit system of the future. They could take a survey, provide ideas for the system or just get to know FWTA a little better.
"Probably my biggest surprise was we took the project bus where we didn't have transit, and it's amazing the support we did have … for trying to get transit out to some of these places that don't have it," said Curvie Hawkins," assistant vice president, planning for FWTA . "We weren't greeted with 'not here,' or 'not now.' We were greeted with, 'When can you start services?'"
The Fort Worth Transportation Authority Master Plan focuses on changes that can be implemented over the next five years, making recommendations that will connect more people to more places, opening new opportunities. Currently, Fort Worth, Richland Hills and Blue Mound pay a half-cent sales tax to support transit service in their cities. Grapevine voters, several years ago, approved three-eighths of a penny for TEX Rail service, and Arlington has limited service through the Metro ArlingtonXpress between the University of Texas at Arlington and CentrePort/DFW Airport TRE station, with a stop in the Entertainment District.
Paul Ballard, FWTA's president and CEO, said the Master Plan lays the groundwork for expansion, confirming the system needs to grow to address the demand for transit across Tarrant County and that more funding is needed.
"People, when they are traveling, don't care about city and county lines," Ballard said. "They just want to get where they want to go. So we put this together, and then our hope is that as we explain this to elected officials in Fort Worth, the county, Arlington, other communities, that they'll see the wisdom in it and want to be a part of the Fort Worth Transportation Authority and support the expansion of service."
This report identified the corridors where people want to travel. Expansion is a multistep process that doesn't happen overnight, Ballard said.
"All investment in transportation, whether it's public transportation, highways, railroads, airways, it's all incremental," he said. "So we know what we need to do is start bus service and then try to build ridership so it becomes logical to move toward fixed guideway, bus rapid transit or streetcar or light rail."
Mobility 2040 calls for bus rapid transit from downtown to Texas Motor Speedway and other corridors as a precursor to traditional rail service. Expansion will take time and money, but FWTA is now ready.
Ballard said the transit authority wanted to create a plan that would make it easy for residents of Tarrant County to connect to other parts of the region.
Some of the changes are underway, while others will be introduced over the next several years.
The Master Plan is about opening public transportation to more people and improving the user experience. The agency has begun to repaint its bus fleet with a modern color scheme, and it recently overhauled its maps and schedules, producing easier-to-read schedules.
"The system worked fine if you were a long-time rider and you knew your route, and you didn't need a time table, you just knew it by heart," said Senior Vice President Nancy Amos. "But it was intimidating to people who had never tried us."
FWTA is introducing enhancements in a variety of different areas affecting various demographic groups. For example, it is providing Millennials and other tech-savvy riders with more functionality through the NextBus app. New bus shelters are also going up, a change that appeals to many long-time customers.
Specific modes will be worked out later. What officials wanted to accomplish with the five-year plan was to identify where service is desired. And they believe they have.
"Transportation options will become increasingly important as growth occurs and congestion increases," Ballard said. "The Transit Master Plan lays out a vision for providing options to meet those needs." For more, visit TMasterPlan.org.
Apply for Vehicle Replacement AirCheckTexas Drive a Clean Machine, one of the most successful air quality programs in Dallas-Fort Worth, is accepting applications for vehicle replacement.
Administered locally by the North Central Texas Council of Governments, AirCheckTexas has millions available for qualifying motorists to receive vouchers worth up to $3,000 toward vehicle replacement ($3,500 for hybrids and some other fuel-efficient models) or repair vouchers of up to $600. For more information, visit NCTCOG.org/airchecktexas.
A Message from Michael Morris, P.E., Director of Transportation
When planning the transportation system of he future, much of the n correctly revolves around infrastructure. That is where we invest the most money to ensure you can continue to move freely around the region by different modes of transportation.
All elements of the transportation network must work together to ensure the residents of today and tomorrow can remain productive and spend time with their families. Most people drive to their destinations, but it's important to invest in a complementary system that allows people to choose how they travel. The North Central Texas Council of Governments and its partners have invested billions of dollars to improve the safety and reliability of the system.
As essential as it is to keep the transportation system humming, a new public-private partnership has been established to ensure that as we welcome new neighbors, our neighborhoods – and the region at large – continue to reflect the charm that attracted us to them in the first place.
The Environmental Stewardship Program is a partnership with the North Texas Tollway Authority. The initiative, established this past spring by the Regional Transportation Council, seeks to involve residents and businesses in an endeavor to improve the quality of life for all of North Texas.
This effort will continue the legacy of the late Chris Anderson, a transportation planner who worked tirelessly to bring multiple partners together to advance environmental stewardship.
In addition to his work for seven years with NCTCOG, Chris spent time with the North Texas Tollway Authority and the Texas Department of Transportation during a long, distinguished career in regional transportation. His passing earlier this year left a void at NCTCOG and throughout the region that will not soon be filled.
The RTC has set aside $1.6 million to begin the stewardship program and is seeking help from the private sector to raise an additional $1.6 million. The program would fund wetlands, tree planting and environmental stewardship efforts in North Texas, a region where ten counties are in nonattainment for ozone pollution. Transportation planners in North Texas must balance environmental concerns with mobility issues when pursuing improvements to the transportation system.
The resulting $3.2 million is to serve as a reminder of NTTA's $3.2 billion payment for the right to build and maintain Sam Rayburn Tollway, a decision that led to the establishment of the Regional Toll Revenue initiative.
The RTR initiative continues to assist in the funding of key multimodal projects that are improving the reliability of the transportation system and making North Texas a more inviting place to live, work and go to school. Now, through this key public-private partnership, it can significantly influence our environmental footprint. The RTR account would be drawn on again to pay the public investment in these environmental stewardship projects.
The initial projects are:
- Engineering for Southwest Water Gardens in Dallas, a project that could enhance flood control along the old Trinity River channel while providing a public amenity.
- Trees for the Neighbor Woods Program, a partnership with the Texas Trees Foundation to enhance the tree canopy in Dallas.
- Effort to plant more trees in the Lancaster/Hemphill-Lamar corridor in Fort Worth, thereby easing the potential heat-island effects of urban development
- Engineering assistance for wetland design at Lake Worth. • A regional education campaign for the Environmental Stewardship Program.
- A regional map-based tree inventory to be developed by NCTCOG and available
You can assist this effort by taking a short survey seeking information on priorities and potential funding opportunities. The survey is available at SurveyMonkey.com/r/NCTCOG Stewardship. If you feel strongly about one or more of these projects or have an idea for how we can raise the money to complete others, please tell us. Your opinion is crucial to this success.
With the help of the private sector and public citizens, this program will bring the proper focus on the many environmental matters involved in transportation planning. It will become a longterm tribute to the partnerships that have improved regional mobility and continue the legacy of a planner with a true passion for environmental stewardship. After all, people (and the environment) matter.
Member Profile - Scott Mahaffey, Board Chair, Fort Worth Transportation Authority
The Fort Worth Transportation Authority is trying to meet the demands of one of the nation's fastest growing cities and counties for public transportation. Currently, three cities pay a half-cent sales tax to support the system. The recent Fort Worth Transportation Authority Master Plan sets out a number of recommendations intended to help.
Leading FWTA board is a man familiar with what the city needs. Scott Mahaffey grew up in Fort Worth and has helped build Cohn & Gregory, a distributor of pipe, valves and fittings, since purchasing controlling interest in the company in 1986.
For the past three years, Mahaffey has been a key player in the construction of transit. He was elected president of FWTA's board of directors in 2013, when the board was reorganized. He has sought to bring the same business principles he's used over his career to public transportation. He and the board have taken a good organization and improved it through the hiring of top senior staff such as president and CEO Paul Ballard, Mahaffey said. "I think Paul was the best in the country, and he's come in and demonstrated that," Mahaffey said.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price had two significant challenges for Mahaffey and the new FWTA board members when they took over. First, as the community continued to grow, the agency needed a strategic plan to guide it in making transportation decisions. That box was checked with the completion of the Master Plan, which the board unanimously approved earlier this year.
Mahaffey was appointed by Fort Worth City Councilmember Zim Zimmerman, who serves alongside him on the Regional Transportation Council. Mahaffey is a successful businessman who understands real estate and was instrumental in the remodeling of Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth. He had the skills necessary to help move the FWTA forward, Zimmerman said.
"It looked to me from what we were asking The T board to go do, that he was the right person to represent my district," he said.
What Mahaffey had to learn was how to navigate the political waters, he said.
Mahaffey learned quickly and with the help of the entire FWTA board, has accomplished what was asked despite having just a half-cent sales tax to work with, Zimmerman said.
"When he first started, we were on the phone almost every day," he said. "Now I don't hear from him for weeks."
The second charge for FWTA was to complete the long-awaited TEX Rail project. That dream is beginning this summer and will come to fruition in 2018, when trains will connect Fort Worth to Grapevine and the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
With the planned opening of TEX Rail commuter service, FWTA's role in regional public transportation will change. Already, it co-owns the Trinity Railway Express with Dallas Area Rapid Transit. But TEX Rail will present a new opportunity for people needing to get from Fort Worth to the airport. Mahaffey has also served on the Regional Transportation Council for the past three years, and during that time has played a part is many significant regional matters, including passenger rail and the long-range transportation plan, Mobility 2040.
A graduate of Texas Tech University with an MBA from Texas Christian University, Mahaffey grew up in the Fort Worth of the 1970s. The differences between then and now, he said, are "night and day."
The city's population is an estimated 806,380, more than twice what it was in 1980. As the population has grown, businesses have expanded beyond the center of the city, providing new opportunities for public transportation.
The Alliance area, for example, is a magnet for business growth, but it is important to have a transportation system that makes it easy for people to reach their jobs there, he said.
"We have all the qualities to attract business, but we have to find a way to get [people] to the job site," he said.
Transportation planners understand the importance of providing reliable transportation to Alliance and other growing areas throughout Dallas-Fort Worth. Mobility 2040, NCTCOG's long-range transportation plan, calls for the possibility of High Intensity Bus service in the area. Another improvement that will likely help employees get to the Alliance area and other nearby developments is the reconstruction of Interstate Highway 35W, part of the North Tarrant Express project.
Since his appointment to the RTC, Mahaffey has gained a true appreciation for the group and the quality people, who put their own interests aside and work for the best regional outcomes. He is perhaps most appreciative for how the RTC reached out to him after his appointment to educate him on the issues. Charles Emery, chairman of the Denton County Transportation Authority, who represents the transit authority on the RTC, has been instrumental in his maturation as a transportation official, he said.
Mahaffey said he has learned to appreciate just how much the RTC does and the importance of cooperation to the overall success of the region. Just as with the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, the RTC is a cooperative body whose members rely on one another to make decisions that benefit the region. No one has all the answers, he said, but it's encouraging to see 44 people "pulling in the same direction" for the good of the region.
"Personalities are checked at the door," he said.
Take your bike or carpool to work and Try Parking It! Log on the website and receive rewards for helping the region improve mobility and air quality.
The North Central Texas Council of Governments recently relaunched TryParkingIt.com, which for 10 years has allowed users to track alternatives to driving alone and see how much money and emissions they can save by making a transportation choice that lessens congestion.
Options include carpooling, vanpooling, transit, bicycling, walking, working from home and more.
The new version still allows the users to track their savings and find ride matches, but introduces rewards such as discounts and contests designed to inspire greater participation in the program. Prizes and merchandise discounts are donated by G.R.E.E.N. Partners
These partners are local businesses that:
GIVE a certain amount of rewards, monthly or quarterly, for active users to win on the Try Parking It website. Rewards may include: giveaways, discounts, a large contest prize, etc.
RECEIVE recognition on TryParkingIt.com, in regional newsletters, social media and more.
EXPAND their customer demographic by partnering with NCTCOG, which can result in new and lasting customers for their business.
EFFECT positive change throughout NORTH TEXAS by helping NCTCOG to decrease traffic congestion and improve air quality through their reward donations. These rewards are used to motivate commuters to try alternative commutes, which in turn gets more vehicles off the road.
TryParkingIt.com users earn points each time they record an alternative commute. The points can be used to enter contests, to purchase rewards or store discounts, and to earn milestone rewards.
While the enhancements make the site more interactive and user-friendly, reducing traffic congestion and improving air quality remain the priorities. In addition to keeping track of the money and miles saved by alternative commutes, users can see how many pounds of greenhouse gases they have saved by trying an alternative to driving alone.
Another feature of the updated site is the multimodal trip logging. Previously, TryParkingIt.com allowed only one commuting method to be entered for each trip. The updated site takes into account the reality that people may get to work using multiple options. For example, if a commuter wants to ride her bike to work, but lives too far from the office, she may choose to ride to the nearby rail station and take the train the rest of the way.
TryParkingIt.com also opens new opportunities for NCTCOG to partner with organizations to encourage the use of alternative commute options, such as when it joined with Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) in May to invite residents to participate in National Bike Month activities.
The inaugural DART Bike to Work Challenge invited residents to hop on their bicycles as an alternative to driving alone. They then entered their commutes on TryParkingIt.com for the opportunity to win prizes. The three participants who logged the most miles on their bikes during the month won gift cards to Richardson Bike Mart.
With the new website, North Texans who want to try alternative commutes like taking transit or biking can be matched with more experienced mentors to help them navigate the transit system or safely walk or bicycle to work. These options can be intimidating for people who have not tried them before, and it helps to be paired with experienced users. Additionally, people wishing to serve as mentors to less-experienced commuters can volunteer to be matched with partners.
The relaunched site also offers a mobile version, which allows users to easily record their commutes and find ride matches on the go, using their phones or tablets. While individual commuters are a major focus of the site, employers play a significant role in reducing traffic congestion. Area companies can learn about NCTCOG's Employer Trip Reduction Program, a free educational program developed to reduce employee commute trips through strategies such as carpooling, vanpooling, transit, telecommuting, flexible work-hour programs, bicycling and walking.
Log on to TryParkingIt.com today to learn about all the site's features and start saving.
Summer is here, so students have more opportunities to bicycle, walk and play outside. To help keep kids safe this summer and in the coming school year, the Look Out Texans bicycle and pedestrian safety campaign has created lesson plans and materials to teach students and their families about how to bicycle and walk safely.
These resources were developed by NCTCOG with assistance from a focus group made up of North Texas educators. The lesson plans, customized for students in grades 3-5 and 6-8, meet Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards.
Through a grant from the Texas Department of Transportation, Look Out Texans is able to provide these informative and fun resources to educators, after-school programs, summer camps and the general public for free online.
A combination of videos, activities and a quiz, helps students learn about safe bicycling and walking practices. Teachers also have access to articles, letters and tip sheets for families to ensure that learning continues at home. Materials for students and parents, including videos, are available in both English and Spanish.
To access these free resources and learn more about Look Out Texans, please visit LookOutTexans.org/schoolkit.
Students across North Texas will bicycle and walk to school when the new academic year begins in August. Look Out Texans provides students with the knowledge they need to bicycle to school safely.