The Aviation Department, led by director Mark Duebner, has been exploring options for a new entrance to the airport since 2017. But what's the end game here?
The Airport argues that traffic congestion at failed intersections (their words) contribute to a backup at Herb Kelleher way. It also has dismissed options to improve those areas, instead setting its focus on the northern side of the airport, near Bachman Lake Park and the communities around Northwest Highway. Having received pushback from the Dallas Park Board for their rush, their latest spin is on safety, namely the ability for emergency vehicles to respond to an incident. We looked into that safety pivot in our last installment. We'll also explore the car and passenger traffic arguments in the next segment. Right now, let's take a look at some really good chances Love Field passed up in its own version of A Series of Unfortunate Events.
First missed approach
You can't say that Dallas Love Field hasn't had its chances to get things right. Check out this Dallas Morning News article from late 2016 that talks about connecting light rail to DAL. When the DART Green Line was being built, money set aside for a people mover from the Burbank Station to a new terminal area would have meant tunneling under Denton Drive and an active runway. It was deemed "not cost-effective" by those holding the federal purse strings. The money that was set aside was instead diverted to a street car project.
In fact, the automated people-mover (APM) concept was bandied about 12 years years ago. A feasibility study was done in 2008 on this very topic and tunneling under the Denton Avenue runway was very much an option, even with plans then for a brand new terminal now in existence. Since then, more land in that area has been ceded to Southwest Airlines to expand its headquarters campus and that same runway will be closed for the better part of next year for a complete rebuilding. What a great time to finally get a tunnel underneath, right? Wrong. Duebner cites grading issues that would make it difficult to support a stretch of tunnel from DART to DAL, but wouldn't these have been raised in the study from 12 years ago?
The runway rebuilding project will proceed in 2021 and the airport has just now shared details on where their customers are coming from. If you had not heard, about 45% of Southwest Airlines' passengers come from Denton, Plano, Frisco and McKinney. It seems that Burbank remains a great connection option for an APM, especially for passengers who prefer a choice and could even "kiss and ride" their way to a people mover, but Duebner thinks that he needs parking at the rail station to make Burbank work. Not so. If you lived in an outlying city, you are not going to drive 30 miles to the airport, park at the Burbank station and take the APM for the last 1/4 mile to the terminal.
Yes, Burbank Station was a missed opportunity years ago, but its still viable for an APM tunnel or for a streetcar.
A tunnel indeed, but not for thee: second missed approach
Notice that new Braniff Centre along Lemmon Avenue, a former facility of the long-defunct Braniff Airways? It's been reborn, even keeping the retro-style main building shell. Nice touch, by the way! And it has a tunnel from the public side into the secure area of the airfield – something a people-mover could have had access to. In fact, imagine if it could have met up with the APM from the DART station, giving people the option to arrive by car along Lemmon, or use mass transit along Denton Drive. Alas, it was not to be. The tunnel is for use by private aviation and it appears the proverbial ship has sailed from this airport location.
Even without a DART connection, this could have made a nice alternate entrance for the public. You'll also be [not] surprised to know that the completed part of this complex includes private jet facilities and access to an enormous Lincoln car dealership that takes up an entire former parking garage that, again, could have complemented this alternate public entrance quite nicely. Those shops and restaurants promised along the wings of this complex? OK, there's a new shared office space facility (a good thing) but the reality is that Love Field missed out on making this area more attractive: no sidewalks, trees, landscaping, or bike lanes. They are just now getting started on the Lemmon Ave Trail streetscape improvements, so we expect it will be some years before the Braniff property is fully leased.
Third missed approach: being agile
All the options the Airport has explored seem to be are all or nothing. It's as if each entrance option has to fix all their issues and by doing so they'll end up with very large, expensive and monolithic projects. It seems like they could have taken a more agile approach where they quickly solve for their immediate pain points. If they had, by now there would be a dedicated entrance lane to the airport going westbound on Mockingbird, no need to tunnel, no need to ruin a park.
But wait, there's less
Despite all the rhetoric, we're not convinced that a people mover is a priority for the Airport. While ideal, it's merely a means to an end to sell the alternate entrance and here's why we believe that. Duebner has admitted during public meetings that the people mover idea could be done separately if need be. To us that sounds like: as long as the Airport gets its approval for a car-centric solution, lake and park be damned, the people mover could become a lower and lower priority to the point of being entirely tossed when funds run out. We're not coming at this from a vacuum. This would be the single most expensive component of an alternate entry solution, yet the Airport often leads with the APM and the benefits of aligning itself to City environmental and other initiatives, much in the way it has pushed the safety angle of late. Stay skeptical, friends.
Does anyone know how to fly this plane?
The predicted depressed passenger numbers, the limits to Love Field capacity and the lack of origin and destination stats of the vehicular traffic at the "failed" intersections tell us that there's more to this push for another entrance than meets the eye. Could money-making development be at the crux of this? There's talk of car rental facilities, a hotel and all kinds of ways to move people into and through an intriguing piece of private land between the two runways on the north-northwest side of the airport. This land was purchased 3 years ago, tripled in value and recently settled into a healthy figure, we suppose waiting for the best future offer. Is it the Airport's to make? If so, then that pesky park might be just what's getting in the way.
The missed opportunities and lack of community input makes it seem like the Airport is trying to stick the landing on their idea for a north entrance using a plane without an operating landing gear. Perhaps it's time to go around, fix the issues, and try again. But bring the community onboard this time. A good co-pilot can help you find the runway.
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