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Now Arriving: Irving
The Orange Line opens new opportunities for working, living and visiting in Irving-Las Colinas
"Various studies have revealed the future need for a rapid transit system which would serve the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan region. Las Colinas' participation in such a system is essential for the relationship of its urban center to both the regional airport and downtown Dallas."
— Las Colinas Acreage: A Master Plan to Set Forth a Community Concept
And while the Trinity Railway Express has operated in South Irving since 1996, the Orange Line now connects to key destinations in North Irving, notably the master-planned community of Las Colinas. The first phase stops at the University of Dallas, the Las Colinas Urban Center and the Irving Convention Center.
The stories of the Orange Line and Las Colinas are intertwined, as founder Ben Carpenter, an Irving landowner and business executive, envisioned public transportation in the 1973 master plan for Las Colinas and its Urban Center. Indeed, Carpenter was ahead of his time, as DFW Regional Airport was still under construction, and the "rapid transit system" wouldn't exist until the 1983 creation of DART.
"The Las Colinas Urban Center was always intended to be a multimodal example to urban planners with light rail, vehicles, watercraft and pedestrian-friendly areas interacting in such a way as to offer viable alternatives to those who live and work in the Urban Center," said Rick Bidne, president of the Las Colinas Association, the property owners association for all deed-restricted residential and commercial properties in Las Colinas.
The area's four-station, 1.4-mile Area Personal Transit (APT) system that opened in 1989 provides one element of that interconnectivity. Now, the Orange Line takes advantage of some of the right of way originally set aside for the APT. In addition, the expansion plans for the system include a direct connection with DART Rail at the Las Colinas Urban Center Station.
"The Orange Line will definitely benefit the residents and corporate citizens of Irving," said Chris Wallace, president/CEO of the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce. "But it's also the first light rail line to connect DFW Airport and downtown Dallas, which will be an asset for the entire North Texas region."
Seeding Economic RecoveryDART's massive $3.4 billion light rail expansion has provided a much-needed economic stimulus during the economic downturn. The Orange Line build-out received $61.2 million in ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) funds because of its employment impact and ability to attract additional development, companies, employees and residents to Irving.
True to expectations, the project produced more than 600 jobs at some 80 contractor companies in 14 states. Federal officials closely monitored the project's progress and cited the Orange Line as one of the top "Recovery Act Projects Changing America."
Committed to Rail
"It's important that the Orange Line connect to destinations like the University of Dallas and Las Colinas Urban Center where it can spur more growth," said Norma Stanton, former DART Board chairwoman and Irving civic leader, "but I was always adamant that it go directly into the airport."
In December 2011, Stanton was honored with the dedication of Norma Stanton Way, the road going into the TRE's Equipment Maintenance Facility off Rock Island Road. Transit and civic officials recognized her steadfast leadership in bringing DART and the TRE to Irving, as well as her years of service on the DART Board and the Irving City Council.
A fellow transit champion, state Rep. Linda Harper-Brown has likewise been instrumental in the Orange Line by first ensuring Irving remained a part of the DART Service Area when the city held a contentious election to consider pulling out of the transit agency in August 1996.
"DART Rail service is not only critical to the long-term future of our economy in North Texas, it's also vital to improving our overall quality of life," said Harper-Brown. "By providing an alternative mode of transportation, we take thousands of cars off our highways, considerably reduce traffic congestion and help residents more quickly return to their families after work."
Aligning Transit InterestsIn 2000, DART had just completed its two-year Major Investment Study of the Northwest Corridor, including the city of Irving. The major alignment, now the Green Line, would run along Stemmons Freeway to the Carrollton-Farmers Branch area, and a spur would link to the North Irving Transit Center.
Meanwhile, the Dallas County Utility and Reclamation District (DCURD) had restructured and changed its longstanding policy. It now would allow residential development within its boundaries, primarily the Las Colinas Urban Center, in hopes of encouraging new growth and increasing Irving's tax base.
The city now wanted light rail to go through Irving, not just to the transit center, and pledged $60 million if DART would relocate the line to serve Texas Stadium, the University of Dallas and Las Colinas before terminating at DFW Airport. The transit agency agreed to Irving's strategy on the condition that the city work with DART to conduct a land-use study of the new corridor.
Working closely with DCURD and the Las Colinas Association, Irving city officials hired RTKL Associates, an internationally known firm of architects and urban planners, to devise a new land use plan, particularly for the Las Colinas Urban Center. RTKL completed the plan and DART and the city of Irving signed their inter-local agreement shifting the line in December 2000.
Promoting Density, Attracting Development
To attract additional growth, the association's membership voted overwhelmingly in 2006 to amend deed restrictions to allow multi-use development in the Urban Center. Irving rezoned the land near light rail stations to allow higher densities, and provided incentives for high-quality development.
"Our goal and challenge is to increase our density in order to attract additional high-quality restaurants and retail to Irving," Wallace said. "The Orange Line will generate new opportunities for concentrated housing and other transit-oriented development near the stations."
Several large-scale development projects in the Urban Center are now completed, under way or planned near the path of the Orange Line � and all are New Urbanist in nature. Together, these rail-centric communities stand to reshape the area.
"The dense urban environment envisioned for the Las Colinas Urban Center cannot be solely served by cars," said Paul Frederiksen, vice president of the Las Colinas Association. "Light rail is a must."
� Karen Ptacek
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