Dallas Area Rapid Transit officials said Friday that they will open their station at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport well ahead of their Dec. 31 target date.
How far ahead? Well, there’s no exact date and there are no promises. But the hope is the Orange Line will be finished when Big Tex starts welcoming folks to the State Fair of Texas in September.
“We’re working on that,” said DART president and executive director Gary Thomas. “We’re running the numbers. We’re checking to see if we can make all that work.”
No matter the station’s exact opening, the line’s completion will be a watershed moment for the region. Dallas has long dreamed of having a passenger rail line tie its downtown to the airport. Once it happens, Dallas is largely considered free to dub itself an international city.
“It opens our city, our region to the entire world,” Thomas said.
Being ahead of schedule is also a landmark achievement for DART, considering that the Orange Line’s fate was uncertain at least twice in the past six years. In December 2007, DART said it was $900 million short on money needed to build the line. In July 2010, the agency said it was $275 million short of what it needed to build the final leg to the airport.
Those shortfalls and that uncertainty drew anger that spurred the agency to refinance existing debt, cut administrative expenses and develop a new approach to design and construction in order to finish the line. Five stations are already open on the existing leg of the line. Nearly 13,000 people use those stations each month.
No one’s seen the Orange Line’s evolution quite like DART board member Rick Stopfer. He was an Irving planning and zoning commissioner and then City Council member when the city and DART worked to buy up land for the line. Irving, which sits between Dallas and the airport, committed tens of millions of dollars to the project so the line would run through its Las Colinas urban center.
“To actually see something of this magnitude complete is an accomplishment,” Stopfer said.
He said the station will give airport employees and North Texas travelers a new option other than highways and toll roads to get to D/FW. It’s also expected to make it easier for visitors to get from the airport to downtown destinations like the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center and adjacent Omni Dallas Hotel.
“It opens up all kinds of opportunities,” Stopfer said.