DART takes early steps toward shortening D-Line route

Good afternoon, readers.

The DART Commissioners will consider a pair of meaty issues at their meeting on Tuesday.

DART moves toward shortening D-Line route

DART staff is taking the first step toward shortening the route of the D-Line Downtown Shuttle, in anticipation of losing state funding for it, by recommending that the Commission vote to set a public hearing on the matter. DART is required by federal law to hold a public hearing prior to eliminating service.

If approved by the Commission, the hearing would be held at 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, March 8, at the Central Public Library. Then, if the state withdraws its portion of funding for the D-Line, the route would be truncated on the eastern end as early as 30 days after the public hearing. The altered route would extend between the Western Gateway and the East Village but no longer up the hill to the Capitol.

The other two partners in the public-private partnership that pay to operate the D-Line — DART and the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s Operation Downtown, which represents downtown businesses — have committed to continue their support of the D-line.

Budget: No fare or tax increases, no service cuts

DART would maintain its current level of service in the coming year under the proposed budget. Staff is recommending neither service cuts (except to the D-Line, possibly) nor increases in taxes or fares. The Commission will vote on the budget at Tuesday’s meeting.

A few budget highlights:

  • Expenses are increasing faster than revenues, including a projected 25 percent increase in fuel prices.
  • DART faces a budget gap in future budget years.
  • DART is proposing to use $1.35 million in reserves to balance this year’s budget.

For more background on staff’s approach to this year’s budget, click here to read the Des Moines Business Records interview with DART General Manager Brad Miller.




From the Commission meeting: land purchase, new legislative priorities, budget forecast

Good afternoon, readers.

Some news for you from the November 30 DART Commission meeting:

Ready to make offer on Transit Hub parcel

The DART Commission voted unanimously to offer $650,000 for a 0.58-acre parcel of the site of the future Transit Hub. The parcel is currently owned by Wells Fargo and used as a parking lot.

The price tag was arrived at through an appraisal this fall of the assessed value — which is what federal law dictates the offer be. The price is within budget.

The largest parcel for the Transit Hub is owned by Polk County and will be made available to DART through a long-term, no-cost lease.

New legislative priorities

The DART Commission voted unanimously to approve new legislative priorities. For years, the top priority has been funding the Transit Hub, which as you all know was achieved in full this year. Among the new priorities:

  • Continued state funding for the D-Line downtown shuttle.
  • Support state legislation to stiffen penalties for those who assault bus operators, as has happened to DART drivers on several occasions in recent years.
  • Seek federal funds for an advanced “smart card” reader and fare payment system for DART’s buses.
  • Support the Iowa Department of Transportation’s request for $15 million in federal funding for bus replacement throughout the state.

Good news/bad news on next year’s budget

The good news: DART’s finances are healthy enough in the short term to put together a budget for next year that maintains current service levels, General Manager Brad Miller said. At this time last year, DART was looking at cutting service as a means to balance its budget.

The bad news: In the longer term, DART’s expenses appear to be out-pacing its revenues. That would mean a couple of tight years, followed by budget short falls — if the projections prove true, that is.

Obviously, the forecast could look different another year from now. Plus, by then, DART will have its strategic plan for growing service, which could guide future budget decisions.

The Commission took no action on next year’s budget at the November meeting. Staff will present a more detailed budget proposal at the December meeting.

Click here for the full agenda.

chair of dart commission holds on to elected office

The chairwoman of the DART Commission, Angela Connolly, held on to her elected office of Polk County Supervisor on Tuesday by defeating Republican challenger Anita Morrill. Early returns show Connolly, a Democrat, having received 65 percent of the votes to Morrill’s 34 percent.

Connolly has been the chair of the DART Commission for the past two years. , DART General Manager Brad Miller praised Connolly during last month’s grant announcement event for being a tireless advocate of public transit in Greater Des Moines.

The DART Commission is made up of nine members. Two of them, including Connolly, are appointed by the Polk County Board of Supervisors and are at-large representatives.

The remaining Commissioners represent one of the seven DART Districts, which are drawn to be nearly identical to the seven State Senate Districts within DART’s service area. Each district appoints a Commissioner through a Selection Committee, which is made up of the mayors of the cities within the district.

The appointees are usually elected officials, but they are not required to be. Currently, six of the nine Commissioners hold elected office. None of the DART Commissioners other than Connolly was up for reelection on Tuesday.

Click here for a complete list of DART’s Commissioners.

Also up for reelection on Tuesday were two state officials whose early support for the Transit Hub made its funding possible this year, namely the $4 million state grant that acted as local match money and leveraged the subsequent federal investments totaling $16.5 million. They would be Gov. Chet Culver and State Sen. Matt McCoy, both Democrats. Culver lost to former Governor and now Governor-elect Terry Branstad, while McCoy defeated his Republican challenger, Dave Leach.

At the federal level, Congressman Leonard Boswell defeated Republican challenger Brad Zaun. Boswell, a senior member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, helped secure both the $6.5 million and $10 million federal grants awarded to the Transit Hub this year.




grimes to dart: we’re in

Good afternoon, riders.

Careful readers of the agenda for tonight’s DART Commission meeting will catch this tidbit of good news: “Rescission of the City of Grimes Withdrawal Request.”

Yes, you read that double-negative correctly: Grimes is staying with DART.

In a letter dated September 22, Mayor Thomas Armstrong notified DART Chair Angela Connolly that Grimes would rescind its November 2009 letter stating its intention to withdraw the city as a member of DART. A portion of the property taxes paid by residents in DART’s 19 member cities go toward public transit, an important source of revenue for DART.

In the months since then, DART added a Park and Ride lot at the new Walmart in Grimes — a point noted by Mayor Armstrong in his letter.

He writes: “It was a very difficult decision for the City Council to write the first letter because of their beliefs and efforts towards regionalism and investment in the Des Moines Area Metro as a whole; however, ultimately they answer to their constituents and have to look out for their best interests. This new park and ride gives us a renewed sense that their investment is not only regional, but personal as well.

“As you are aware there have been numerous conversations and meetings in an effort to come to a resolution. As such, please pass on our appreciation for all of the hard work and effort that has been invested in this effort. The Park and Ride at Walmart was a big step in an effort to provide more immediate services to all of the citizens of Grimes. As the DART Commission works on the comprehensive plan, we look forward to even more advancements in this service area.”

Click here for the full agenda, which includes the letter from Grimes on page 34.