Frisco bets on development, not mass transit

City officials, leaders plan for possible rail, bus need in future through plans, discussion



In 1983, when Dallas and burgeoning suburbs such as Richardson and Irving voted to create the area's first regional transportation agency—Dallas Area Rapid Transit—Frisco was considered as nothing more than a sleepy, rural outpost to many in the area.



More than three decades later, Frisco is still not part of a mass-transit system. Instead of developing mass transit using the 1 percent of sales tax revenue DART would require, city leaders chose to use the money to focus on recruiting business and city development.



That decision has translated to a booming housing and business market as well as numerous sports and entertainment venues.



"Frisco doesn't want to give up that 1 cent sales tax," Frisco Development Services Director John Lettelleir said. "We are still a young city, and that 1 cent sales tax goes a long way to helping develop the city."



Voters agreed in the 1990s to split the 1-percent of sales tax between the Frisco Economic Development Corp. and Community Development Corp. A citywide special election would be needed to decide to reallocate the funds, which is not considered a possibility in the near future, Lettelleir said.



City Councilman Jeff Cheney said using the 1-percent sales tax money for development was the "absolute right decision made."



"I think there is no question that the EDC and CDC has been a great success for our city's growth," he said. "We have gotten far more from our investment with the EDC and CDC than putting [the tax money] somewhere like DART," he said.



With about 40 percent of Frisco still undeveloped and many areas largely unpopulated, Cheney said a mass transit system in Frisco right now might not work.



Cheney said although he thinks the tax money is best spent continuing to draw businesses and drive development, at some point in the city's maturity cycle when it is closer to build-out, it could be time to look for other uses of the tax money.



"I think it will happen at some point, but not in the near future," Cheney said. "We are master-planning the city so that in the future if we want to have rail stops and commuter rail in the city, we are not closing that door.



"[Mass transit] is obviously incredibly expensive, and you don't want to do it unless you know you will get a return on your investment," Cheney said.



Nonetheless, continued growth has necessitated the discussion and preliminary planning of mass transit. The city's comprehensive plan includes a commuter rail line utilizing the existing Burlington Northern Railroad line and bus routes.



Issues such as having the population density to support mass transit and having convenient stations to walk or drive are only some of the variables that would need to be considered.



"Even if you have the density, that doesn't mean that people are actually going to use [mass transit]," Lettelleir said.



Lettelleir said he thinks mass transit will happen at some point in the city's future, but he and other city leaders say it hinges on continued development, the needs of the residents and businesses as well as funding.



Workforce



Tony Felker, Frisco Chamber of Commerce president, said a lack of mass transit affects local businesses.



The issue, he said, stems from employers needing the type of workers that often do not live in Frisco—lower-income workers in areas such as retail, restaurant, hotels, call centers and construction.



"In order to incentivize them to come to Frisco, [the employers] have to up with the wages to convince people to come this far north and convince them to bypass any other work opportunities along the way," Felker said. "You take that over 'X' amount per job, per hour, and you multiply it out times 200, 300 people, and it can be a huge financial issue."



Despite the needs of employers, Felker said there are questions about how effective a rail system would be for taking cars off clogged roadways and benefiting Frisco residents and businesses rather than just moving people from outlying communities through Frisco.



Felker said he would like to see the conversation shift to a bus system that might connect to neighboring cities, a local trolley system and especially making transportation easier within the city limits.



"Yes, [mass transit] is an issue, but I want to be sure we are trying to create as many jobs as we can right here in Frisco so that people can use the side streets, can walk to work, can bike to work, etcetera, and how we create more jobs here as opposed to finding better ways to get people to work out of town."



There is also interest in adding bus routes from the senior community.



Cheney said some Frisco Lakes residents have inquired about bus service and said he thinks it will need to be explored in the future.



The city's one foray into a bus service took place from 2002–07.



The city agreed to be a part of the Collin County Area Rapid Transit project, which meant having one bus line that went through Frisco Square, by Stonebriar Centre and a few other areas.



"We terminated the service in 2007," Lettelleir said. "It was not cost-efficient. Basically we were paying $18 a ride. There weren't enough people to support it."



DART interest



When and if Frisco decides to put a mass-transit system in place, DART is waiting.



As one of the fastest-growing cities in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Frisco is on DART's radar, said Morgan Lyons, DART assistant vice president of communications and community engagement.



"As more people move here, there is more pressure on our highways and transit systems, so we are always looking for ways to move people around safely and efficiently," he said.



DART officials last met with Frisco leaders last June 2013 as part of ongoing discussions about bringing Frisco on board, Lyons said.



Instead of immediately committing the 1 percent of sales tax to DART, another option open to Frisco would be to contract with DART for transit service for a limited time and work toward committing the 1-percent sales tax investment.



Should Frisco ever decide to join DART both bus and rail service would be options, Lyons said.



DART planned for the northward expansion of the system by purchasing right-of-way along the SH 75 corridor almost to the Oklahoma border, Lyons said.



A spur would have to be built to connect Frisco to an existing line in the DART system, Lyons said.



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