LAUNCH: Q&A with Bill Velasco

DART board of directors chairman BILL VELASCO was born and raised in Oak Cliff, graduated from Sunset High School, went off to college at Texas A&M University, and then came back and bought a house in Winnetka Heights in the late ’70s, when they were selling for under $20,000. He is a founding member of the Winnetka Heights Historic District. His business, Velasco Tax and Insurance, has been a fixture on West Jefferson for more than 20 years. He is the first DART board chairman from Oak Cliff in decades, and he thinks of that as a boon for the neighborhood.

The biggest transportation news in Oak Cliff right now is the $23 million TIGER grant that will go toward building a streetcar line from downtown to Oak Cliff. What do you think about that?

I was for streetcars as soon as I heard about them, and I was excited that we were able to get some of the TIGER funds. We’ve got a way to go before we can get started with it, but it’s definitely good news for Oak Cliff. It’s another amenity for Oak Cliff. It’s a good complement to what we have already. I think we’ll get more businesses in the Bishop Arts District and on Jefferson Boulevard. There are people in Dallas who never spend time in Oak Cliff, and now they’ll take that Sunday afternoon trolley car ride.

I know DART is getting ready to change a lot of its bus routes. Why is that?

About 70 percent of the routes are being changed because of the opening of the Green Line. You know, it’s the longest commuter rail line under construction in North America. When it’s finished in December, it will run from Pleasant Grove all the way to Carrollton/Farmer’s Branch. All indications forecast that it’s going to be one of the busiest lines, if not the busiest.

What other lines are under construction?

The Orange Line into the DFW airport — the first leg is almost finished — and that could be finished in the late summer of 2011. And the Blue Line from downtown Garland to Rowlett is under construction.

What else is new?

All of our trains and buses are being fitted with WiFi. So you’ll be able to use some of your commute time to check email and get a little bit of work done before you get to the office. If you have a presentation that’s due in the morning, you can take the light rail and get it done. It adds more value to the experience. Also, we’re moving the DART police headquarters to the Monroe Shops building in Oak Cliff. There are over 300 DART police offers. That’s a $30 million project that was seven years in the making, and it’s opening September 2010.

That looks like a really cool project. It’s a 100-year-old building that originally was built as a maintenance facility for the Interurban Railroad.

Yes. And it will be the entryway to Lancaster Blvd. We think it will help reduce crime in the area just by the presence. And it might spur a little development around there.

And you’re also replacing the whole fleet of buses?

Yes, we’re getting brand new CNG (compressed natural gas) buses — we’re replacing the entire bus fleet. It came at a price, but we want to be a leader in North Texas with the importance of clean air.

What are some of your goals as board chairman?

We want to become the regional transportation for North Texas and create a seamless system. Most of our partner cities are in the northern sector — the Garlands and the Carrolltons. So we want to bring DART to the southern sector cities like Mesquite, Duncanville, DeSoto. We’d like passengers to be able to take DART all the way form Waxahachie to Denton. They all want to be part of DART; they just don’t know how to get in. I’m having a southern summit in the next few months to see if we can bring them into the DART system. 


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