EconDev home

last modified: Thursday, December 22, 2005 12:09 PM

The Economic Impact of DART LIGHT RAIL and Transit Oriented Development

Yoohyung Joo


It is said that public transportation can induce a vibrant national economy. It can make business profitable, increase property tax revenue, and stimulates private investment. Overall it creates economic development. Statistics demonstrate how it influences the economy. New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Chicago’s Regional Transportation Authority disclose that the relationship between statewide economic benefits and cost is slightly more than 2 to 1 and 1.8 to 1 respectively.1) Several cases evidence how it induces development and promotes economic vibrancy. The Metro Link light rail system in St. Louis has drawn $491.8 million in private investment.2)  Also, $450 million in commercial and residential development proceeded around Boston’s silver line.3) This kind of private development around public transportation induces transit-oriented development making the city more compact, vibrant, and walkable.

In this research I will examine the economic impact of transportation especially focusing on a specific area, Dallas. Dallas is usually regarded as an automotive-sprawl city, which does not seem to utilize mass transit effectively.  Since Dallas is stereotyped as an auto oriented city, studying the transit system in this region can show the obvious impact of public transportation. I focus on how transit changes the city and also illustrate the possibility of its success. I will emphasize the effect of rail and illuminate the plausibility of the transit oriented development in Dallas.  

  1. DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit)

Dart (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) was founded in 1983. It is operated by a 15-member board appointed by member-city councils based on population. The following thirteen cities are serviced: Addison, Carrollton, Cockrell Hill, Dallas, Farmers Branch, Garland, Glenn Heights, Highland Park, Irving, Plano, Richardson, Rowlett and University Park.4)  Of interest is the situation regarding the Dallas Area Rapid Transit. This regional transit authority receives funding in a unique manner, subsidized by a 1% local sales tax.5)  It helps keep fares low. DART also has various funding sources such as investment income, federal fund, farebox revenue, and bonds. Its Light Rail system was originally built with 80% local funds and 20% federal. In its extension program, the Federal Transit Administration provided $330 million full funding.6)

The unique mindset under girding DART and its 45 miles of light rail transit (DART Rail), along with 31 freeway miles of high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, is praiseworthy, due to the formerly dominated auto transit.  130 bus routes provide service to Dallas as well as 12 surrounding cities.  Accompanying the aforementioned amenities is a paratransit for the mobility impaired. A joint 35 mile stretch of commuter railway merges DART and the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, aptly named the Trinity Railway Express or TRE.  This venture, boasting mid-city stops, ties downtown Dallas and Fort Worth to the DFW International Airport.7)


The 44 mile light rail was initiated in 1996. It covers 34 stations and serves 58,0000 weekday riders and weekends, 43,074 passengers.8) A total of 16.5 million passenger trips were generated through DART in 2004. Now there are two lines, the Blue Line and the Red Line. The Blue Line serves from Ledbetter to downtown Garland, which are Dallas suburbs, through downtown Dallas. The Red Line, which services from Park Lane to Westmoreland, was newly expanded toward the north beyond Park Lane by more than 9 miles. New stations include nine stations from Walnut Hill to Parker Road through Galatyn Park and downtown Plano.9)  This rail does not only serve public needs but also it induces commercial and residential development. Around the stations, mixed- use development investment amounts to approximately $1.3 billion. Also, it attracts a transit oriented life style. 

DART additional planned expansion regions include the Northwest Corridor, which provides transportation to downtown Dallas, American Airlines Center, the Dallas Medical/Market Center, Love Field Airport, and the cities of Farmers Branch and Carrollton. This is a 17.5 mile expanse of railway.  Various other augmentations to DART are in the making such as a 13-mile branch slated to stretch from the Northwest Corridor to North Irving’s Las Colinas Urban Center and DFW International Airport. The Southeast Corridor bridging downtown Dallas, Deep Ellum, Fair Park, South Dallas and Pleasant Grove, is an additional 10.2 planned extension. The entire DART Rail System should reach 93 miles in length by the year 2014, which is twice its existing size.  Further extension propositions will reach south three miles from Ledbetter Station in South Oak Cliff to I-20 and northeast five miles from Downtown Garland Station to Rowlett.10)

Map showing the proposed new lines of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) system.

     Picture1: DART Service Areas and its extension

     (The overlapping part between the Red Line and the Blue Line is downtown Dallas.)


  1. The Outcome

Noteworthy is the mixed-use development investment spawned by the DART light rail endeavor.  $860 million were spent in the railway project, laying the foundation for an impressive surrounding development generating $922 million.  This unique combination has resulted in more than $1 billion associated with the DART venture.11)  In the beginning, after its inauguration, Downtown Dallas saw a nearly 33 percent increase in retail sales compared to a 3% rise citywide.12)

Also, DART boosts economic activities. It marked the increase of sales tax revenue. In 2004, the sales tax revenue rose to $250.6 million from $234.3 million in 2003, which was a 7% increase.13)  It showed the increase of net assets of $19.6 million, while the previous year had a record of $49.2 million decrease in net assets.  Total operating revenues also increased to $34,774,000 in 2004 from $32,459,000 a year ago. Cash flows from investment activities in 2004 were $100,054,000, which also evidenced an increase from $57,606,000.14)

In 2002, DART’s light rail ridership grew by 45%. Surveys uncover an interesting 30% rate of diversion from cars to the DART rail system.15)  During 2003, more than 32,000 jobs were created by DART and its overall regional impact is $3.7 billion.16)  Amazingly, over 27,000 jobs and greater than $2.3 billion in regional economic investment will result from the original $1 billion investment into DART.17)  Its investments in daily operations generate more than $230 million in regional economic activity per year.18)

3.1. Property Value

Between 1994 and 1998, the value of residential properties near light rail stations on average increased by 39 percent more than comparable properties, which do not get rail service, and the value of office buildings near DART Light Rail increased by 53 percent more than comparable properties not near rail.19)  During the period, the occupancy of class A buildings increased from 80% to 88.5%. Also, national companies like Omnicom Group, Blockbuster Entertainment, and the 1,900 room Adam’s Mark Hotel, the largest in Texas view proximity to the DART stations as the intrinsic element in their location strategy.

One research from the University of North Texas shows that between 1997 and 2001 residential property near by DART Light Rail stations increased by 32.1%, while the property lacking close proximity increased by 11.5%.20)  In the case of offices, the property near DART Light Rail station increased by 24.7%.21)  On the other hand, non-DART Light Rail property increased 11.5%.22)  This kind of increase reflects the high demand for the close proximity to the DART Light Rail station.

In the case of retail property, this research shows that there is no important difference in the value change, but it can reflect an overall retail growth during the period. However, it discloses the competitive situation between retail spaces residing within 1/4 mile of DART.23)

3.2. Synergetic Development from DART LIGHT RAIL

The most valuable outcome from DART Light Rail is the triggering mixed-use development along rail stations. Actually it is in process and the city of Dallas is taking a “wait and see” position. Along DART Light Rail stations including the expansion plan, an over $3 billion investment has been triggered.24) It is remarkable that the ‘city of sprawl’ is trying to change. No one is sure whether it will be a success or not, but at least its trial and some proved change imply positive effects. I examine several representative cases: Downtown Dallas, Mockingbird, Downtown Plano, Cedars.

1)      Downtown Dallas

More than 200,000 people travel each day, using the DART network, which encompasses bus, light rail, commuter, HOV lanes, paratransit services and rideshare programs, within a 700-mile region. The Convention Center, Union Station, West End, Akard, St. Paul and Pearl are downtown access points. Two downtown stations in the central Fort Worth vicinity are connected by the Trinity Railway Express (TRE) commuter rail. Especially between stations in downtown, the light rail fee is reduced to fifty cents. DART also provides the Employer Pass program for transit use with a discounted price.25)  These factors attract more people to the light rail transit use.  In the downtown region, approximately 45,000 employees commute, via DART. This light rail will be extended 17.5-miles and 10.2-miles by 2011.

The transit network induces synergetic development. Elm and Commerce, from Industrial Boulevard to Central Expressway received a $1.5 million resurfacing due to increased transit use. In late 2003, a $3.5 million streetscape enhancement project, which makes more pedestrian-friendly streets, was initiated. It also generated the development of pedestrian ways.26)  Two miles of underground and one mile of elevated pedestrian walkways, made it feasible for residents, visitors, and employees to take advantage of 250 restaurants, stores and retail services. It has helped create a walkable atmosphere. This positive development attracts the extension of the rail line as mentioned above. In May 2003, Dallas voters approved funding to extend the north/south streetscape improvements project from the DART Transit Mall to Ross Avenue. Total investment on this area is from 1999 to September 2005 is estimated at $30 million.27)

2) Mockingbird Station

This area, which is located 4 miles north of downtown Dallas, a 15-minute ride by train, shows notable characteristics of a transit oriented development. The mixed use development investment around the station was $145 million. This project was launched in 1997. Hughes bought a 7 acre property and an abandoned Western Electric building. Erected in 1947, the latter was a three-story brick and concrete building now filled with junk and grease.  Next to that building the DART light rail station was planned to be constructed. Currently the ground level of this structure has 45,000 square feet and on the loft, four stories of 200,000 square feet apartments.28)  This project added 1,150 underground parking spaces with the additional purchase of an old next door building and converted part of its parking garage into 35,000 square feet of retail space. It was expanded to 140,000 square feet and connected to the light rail station by a pedestrian bridge. The loft apartment, completed in 2001, has a rental value ranging from $900 to $2700, which is 35% higher than “comparables”.  From this rail station, the total investment from 1999 to September 2005 is estimated as $270,000,000.29)  It shows positive transit effects inducing private investment. This kind of mixed use development in a suburb of Dallas was hard to imagine without the transit.

3)      Downtown Plano

Downtown Plano is located 40 minutes north of downtown Dallas utilizing DART ride.  It is a relatively affluent community, but the downtown was dead since suburban shopping centers absorbed people from this part of town. However, this sprawled suburb was recreated with new construction of light rail transit, DART.  It was planned that DART and the city were to collaborate with the local downtown business zoning district within ¼ mile of the station, and induce revitalization.

The first project was completed in 2001. It was a mixed-use development on a 3.6 acre spot adjacent to historic downtown and art centers, transit museums, and Haggard Park. The newly designed buildings were 3 and 4 story buildings with no set back and 19th century style.30) They include 234 loft apartments of which rent value is from $600 to 1,200 and over 15,000 square feet of ground floor commercial space consisting of restaurants, small offices, and a community room. This project opened 6 months before DART and leased up quickly. This success induces the second project which included 229 loft apartments and 25,000 square feet of first level retail.31) After DART opened the occupancy rate of those buildings increased to 98%. Total investment from 1999 to September 2005 was $260,000,000. Now downtown Plano has become a vibrant and pleasing center which attracts all the people.

4)      Cedars

Cedars is located south of downtown Dallas. Along the DART light rail station, four projects followed.  It is a Convention Center development, mixed-use development on South Side Lamar, Gilley’s development and Dallas Police Headquarter.  The Convention Center is located between Cedar Station and the Convention Center Station. The Convention Center area includes a commercial, entertainment, hotel, residential district. On the South Side on Lamar is a 10 story, a 1.4 million square feet mixed use center holding 455 loft retail spaces, offices, and a performance space.32)  It was converted from an abandoned merchandise center and its occupancy rate is over 90%. Dallas Police Headquarters was also newly constructed along the station. The 360,000 square feet building on 3.2 acres holds 1,300 employees. Total investment around this area from 1999 to 2005 is estimated at $339,200,000.

  1. Conclusion

It is early to judge whether the light rail in Texas is an overall success or not and how huge of an impact it brought. Some surveys show that retail business does not benefit from the DART station and people still love their cars and big suburban malls. However, DART induces mixed use development along the rail station, and it has brought over $1 billion of investment. Property taxes have risen and over 30,000 jobs were created from DART and its investment. Above all, Dallas and its suburbs are changing along the light rail; the region is on the precipice of unavoidable change. At least, the public transit and the development of its adjacent area give people another option to commute and enjoy the urban life. In these respects, DART generates positive effects. This influence brought rail extension plans out toward the suburbs through downtown. If it is completed, the city will have a more compact network and better access to downtown. Also, development comes along with it. Total estimated investment around the rail stations would be over $3 billion.  This development also can increase tax revenues, and additional jobs. The rail can boost the local economy and the whole city can be recreated.






5)      Ibid.

6)      Luther S Miller, “How light rail pays its way in Dallas”,  Railway Age, Feb 2001:202, 2.



9)      Ibid.



12)   Ibid.


14)   Ibid.


16)   Ibid.

17)   Ibid.

18)   Ibid.


20)   Bernard L Weinstein and Terry L. Clower, “ An Assessment of the DART LRT on Taxable Property Valuations and Transit Oriented Development”, briefings/documents/dart2002.pdf

21)   Ibid.

22)   Ibid.

23)   Ibid.

24)   Bernard L Weinstein and Terry L. Clower, “ The Estimated Value of New Investment Adjacent to DART LRT Stations: 1999-2005”,


26)  Ibid.

27)  Bernard L Weinstein and Terry L. Clower, “ The Estimated Value of New Investment Adjacent to DART LRT Stations: 1999-2005”


29) Bernard L Weinstein and Terry L. Clower, “ The Estimated Value of New Investment Adjacent to DART LRT Stations: 1999-2005”