DALLAS — Faced with sharply falling revenue, Dallas Area Rapid Transit is considering delaying a key light-rail line to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, among other measures to reduce spending.
Chief financial officer David Leininger said the agency will have to cut nearly $3 billion from a plan to spend $14.6 billion by 2029. With $1 billion of bonds sold last year, DART was the third-largest issuer in the Southwest region in 2009.
Leininger told board members last week that it should reconsider its plans for debt issuance because a shortfall in revenue for debt service would force cuts in service to make the bond payments.
The crisis comes in the middle of a major expansion of DART’s system, including a new line to Dallas’ Fair Park, a Green Line to north Dallas suburbs under construction and an extension of the Blue Line to the east underway.
Another project, the Orange Line to Irving was expected to continue to DFW as part of a master plan to link the centers of Dallas and Fort Worth by rail to the airport. But the revenue crisis is threatening to delay that extension, officials said.
DART’s staff is preparing recommendations for delaying or eliminating capital projects to be presented to the board April 27.
On May 25, the staff will identify service-reduction options, possibly eliminating routes or reducing frequency of rail and bus service.
By July 13, the board will have a proposed 2011 budget and a new 20-year financial plan.
Revised 20-year sales tax projections by economist Ray Perryman show DART receiving about $3 billion less in sales tax income than projections made in May 2009.
The revisions take into account not only the effect of the current economic downturn but also a comprehensive assessment of population and employment growth rates in DART’s 13 member cities, officials said.
“The current projection for sales tax receipts in fiscal year 2010 will be between $15 and $20 million below our original estimate of $387.8 million,” DART executive director Gary Thomas said. “Combined with lower than anticipated sales tax receipts last year, and significantly reduced 20-year sales tax projections, we will have to evaluate all future expenses.”
The first two sections of the Orange Line from northwest Dallas to Irving were already facing delays due to schedule problems with the Texas Department of Transportation’s construction of a key interchange.
The Orange Line — which was in danger of postponement two years ago due to soaring construction costs — was returned to the DART construction schedule after protests from Irving, a member of the original coalition of cities contributing sales tax revenue to the system.
Irving is counting on DART rail to service more than $4 billion in investment near planned rail stations. The triple-A rated city is also building a $130 million convention center and a $255 million entertainment center on the Orange Line.
More than 75% of DART’s income is from the collection of a 1% sales tax in member cities. Other revenue sources include passenger fares, interest income and federal funds. Sales tax receipts also cover debt service.