Most single-modality, futuristic transportation projects—such as the bullet trains in California or the bored tunnels under Las Vegas—are merely conceptual at this point, but a surprisingly robust multimodal system has been up and running for almost 40 years, carrying 36.1 million riders annually, in a place not typically associated with abundant public transportation: Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW). Under new leadership like Dee Leggett, executive VP and chief development officer, Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) serves a surrounding metro area of 13 cities, covering over 700 square miles.
One of the many perks of DART is that travelers from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport can be whisked directly to downtown stations—something New York City’s LaGuardia and Kennedy International airports have yet to accomplish. Fast-growing suburban cities north of downtown will soon be connected with direct airport service via the Silver Line. And what the system might lack in futurism, it makes up in sheer size and an unerring focus on their customers. “As we say in Texas, we like things bigger in Texas,” says Leggett.
She’s not kidding. DART has a bus fleet of almost 700 vehicles, 14 bus transit centers, a 93-mile light rail system (with 65 stations), a commuter rail system with ten stations over 39 miles, and even a 2.4-mile streetcar system in downtown Dallas used by 145,400 passengers in 2021.
DART is an authority that works with multiple municipalities, serving riders and destinations in multiple counties. Three of those counties will soon be traversed by the newest member of the family: the 26-mile Silver Line. It will link the cities of Plano, Richardson, Dallas, Carrollton, Addison, Grapevine, and Coppell to DFW International and the Addison Regional airports.
Leggett’s growth is also celebrated by colleagues and peers. “Over the last decade, I have witnessed Dee Leggett develop into a strong public transportation leader. Her energy, passion, and ability to communicate to so many allows her to take control and lead the region’s most complex transit projects to success,” said Stephen Knobbe, HNTB senior vice president.
Establishing any new form of public transportation is no small task. There will always be, at the very least, spirited community input for such a system.
It’s a communications task, and Leggett is up for the job. She has spent almost her entire career communicating to a myriad of interests around public transportation. “I have to tell the project story,” says Leggett. Growing up with parents in public service prepared her well for this role.
Indeed, having skilled communications in public settings is essential to a project’s success, and it’s a lot more complex than ever before, given the power of social media. “It can be something as simple as construction workers parked incorrectly at a site, and within the next 24 hours, the online conversation is negative about the entire project,” Leggett relays. “Part of how we deal with this is that we keep showing up, being present, responding to concerns and communicating the true benefits of the project, both now and in the future.”
Fortunately, the business community is and has always been in support of mass transit in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. “It goes back to when the original referendum was introduced forty years ago,” she says. “Employers saw the need and value of a light rail system to help residents get to work, and we’ve seen developments arise around our stations.” Those businesses include headquarters for Southwest Airlines, State Farm Insurance, Toyota, and the sports and entertainment arena American Airlines Center, home of the Dallas Mavericks and Stars. Additionally, DART works with private developers who build near transit stations to share parking facilities.
Among the complexities of Leggett’s work is the dynamic regional growth they’ve seen in the region. With an expected population increase of four million people by 2040, there will be new places where people live and new destinations for them to travel for work and play.
She points out that the system, by its nature, history, and design, is decentralized. Again, this is where Leggett’s skills as a public administrator come in handy. To effectively design and operate a complex system of trains, buses, rapid bus lines, light rail, and even some “last mile” services require partnerships with economic development entities in the DART service area. Additionally, land-use planners collaborate with Leggett’s team on an ongoing basis, because the two are interdependent and driving towards the same goals.
Those goals break down into three categories: make car trips optional to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, fulfill a social responsibility to provide equal-access transportation, and support the regional economy. “I have always believed that public administration is about sustainability, which is inherent in public transportation,” says Leggett.
So even while Texas was famously built on an oil economy, Leggett and DART provide plenty of evidence that transitioning to a lower-carbon transportation system is good for its future economy and achievable right now.
HNTB Corporation is an employee-owned infrastructure firm serving public and private owners and contractors. With 109 years of service, HNTB understands the life cycle of infrastructure and addresses clients’ most complex technical, financial and operational challenges. The firm delivers engineering and architectural services for airports, bridges, roadways, highways, tolling, transit, rail, planning, program/construction management, and more to clients throughout North Texas, and the US clients include the Dallas Area Rapid Transit, Texas Department of Transportation, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, North Texas Tollway Authority and others. For more information, visit www.hntb.com, or follow HNTB on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
Since 1972, Herzog has been the preferred company for building railroads and rail transit systems. Clients prefer Herzog because we are track experts. Our diverse portfolio of projects connects communities and transportation infrastructure across North America. We are proud to be a construction contractor for Dallas Area Rapid Transit and look forward to expanding our 17-year partnership with Dee Leggett and everyone on the DART team.