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Leading us into the future

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It was sometime early in 2002 that a group of concerned community members in North Texas were carefully examining the transportation needs for the future of this rapidly growing area of the state. With commuter roadways becoming jam-packed during the peak hours of each weekday, a plan was needed to begin the process of making alternate modes of travel accessible.

As is the case in every major undertaking, a leader was required to put together all the necessary components for a successful project. When searching for that level of leadership it’s vital that the person selected has more than the basic management skills of the average entrepreneur. The person must also have the organizational aptitude of a seasoned civil engineer. In addition, the right person should have a stellar reputation in the community, one that commands respect as well as admiration.

That person was Charles Emery, a sixth generation Denton County resident with a profound dedication to the county and to the North Texas region. The owner of FCE Enterprises, Inc. which focuses on consulting and venture capital activities, Mr. Emery, who is also a licensed CPA, conducted his undergraduate studies at Texas A&M and the University of Texas at Arlington, with graduate work at Southern Methodist University. His career includes 18 years with URS Company, a professional services firm, where he held the titles of Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer and was National Marketing Director. To say his résumé is impressive would be a one-dimensional understatement. A six-year veteran of the Air Force and National Guard, Emery lives in Lewisville with his wife Elaine. They have 4 children and 16 grandchildren.

So it was in 2002 that Emery became the Chairman of the Denton County Transportation Authority (DCTA) and, along with other board members, began the strategy for the future of transportation in North Texas. It’s important to note that this is an unsalaried position which required an immense amount of time that would ordinarily be devoted to growing an already lucrative career. Such is the nature of dedicated people, without whom many important ventures would never come to fruition. Recently, my wife and I had the distinct pleasure of meeting with Charles at our Flower Mound home. Although I had met him a few times at political and civic association meetings, this was the first time we ever talked at length. I learned that the majority of his career has been dedicated to planning, development, and/or sales of more than 20,000 acres of land in 10 states and 31 cities, including commercial office and industrial parks and master planned residential communities.

“Denton County needed mass transportation because we were the second fastest growing area,” Emory said, adding, “We had to have alternatives for transportation, and I was convinced that there had to be a way to make transportation better. I had a broad base understanding of the county and the dynamics of it.” He said they knew there was going to be a funding crisis for highways, and bus and rail were viable alternatives. “Whether we liked it or not, the massive growth was going to continue and we had a responsibility to address the transportation needs for that growth,” he said. His commitment to transportation and improved mobility within and around Denton County has made him instrumental in the successful development of a balanced transportation network and the expansion of a regional rail network.

In 2004, a formal Alternatives Analysis study was conducted, which included extensive community and citizen involvement. The study identified the proposed rail line as the best and most cost-effective mobility solution for Denton County and the region. It cited the impacts of projected population growth, the growing safety, traffic congestion and air quality concerns, as well as the need to improve access to Denton County’s vital health care facilities and three major college and university campuses. In May 2005, the DCTA Board of Directors approved the study’s recommendation to construct the rail alignment on the east side of I-35E using an existing railroad corridor.

In March 2008, working closely with the Federal Transportation Administration to meet the federal and local regulatory requirements, the DCTA Board of Directors approved the Final Environmental Impact Determination, which detailed the proposed measures to mitigate the environmental impact of the rail system. In August 2008, the Regional Transportation Council approved funding for the project. Emery made it clear that no federal funds were used in the construction of the rail link. On April 4, 2011, the DCTA began tests of railcars, communication systems and signals on tracks between Carrollton and Lewisville Lake. The A-train was opened on June 20, 2011, with celebrations at five train stations. Mr. Emery said combined bus and rail will carry over 3 million passengers this year.

Charles doesn’t expect to be in the position much longer. “I am trying to build DCTA into a sustainable organization and I think we’re almost there. We have a minimal amount of debt (less than 10%) on the balance sheet. It’s positioned to go forward. We’re looking at I-35W right now to do some joint ventures with Fort Worth. We are looking to work with the Fort Worth Transportation Authority to start off with some regional bus service which could advance into rail. The plan is to provide an alternative and make it user friendly. Our connectivity with DART proves that a regional rail system works.” He talks passionately about the user-friendly future of transportation in the area.

“Two things got me interested in this. A friend, who was in Viet Nam and got Agent Orange, couldn’t get to the VA Hospital easily in downtown Dallas. Now he can with his seeing-eye dog.  Another case was a woman that had a son born with Spinal Bifida and was paralyzed from the waist down. I kept thinking how we could make life easier for them. Today, that child is able to go to Scottish Rite more easily. I wanted to have 50,000 college students in Denton County get an education. Now, students traveling on these systems have easier access to their colleges. These are some of the things that motivated me and kept me going through the years.”

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