August 17, 2017 – TRA Newswire –

In a public meeting held at the North Central Texas Council of Governments office in Arlington today, Transportation Director Michael Morris outlined six potential innovative partnership ideas to get the missing link of the Cotton Belt rail line built between DFW International Airport and Plano. Morris said that “DART has asked us to help them close the gap between two projects, one on the Cotton Belt and one downtown. They are not penciled out perfectly right now. I will seek innovative ideas and pass them on to DART. It’s then up to them to decide what to do on their path forward.” On the Tarrant County side, the TEXRail project is already under construction from downtown Fort Worth to the airport.

Morris indicated that the Regional Transportation Council has already earmarked $100 million for innovative passenger rail projects and that with the right mix of public and/or private partnerships the time frame to build the Cotton Belt line and up to 200 more miles of passenger rail in the region could be moved up rapidly. The Cotton Belt is projected to be the busiest  commuter rail line in the region, carrying 21,296 riders daily by 2040. It would interchange a high percentage of riders with DART’s Green, Red and Orange lines. The highest percentage of riders going to DFW Airport would come out of Collin County, according to documents.

Former Dallas City Council representative Ron Natinksy has been a supporter of the Cotton Belt line for years. Speaking at the meeting, Natinsky indicated “there is a private funding group available right now that has the resources in building previous projects and the financial resources to close the gap  between the money that DART may be able to get and the money they may need to finish the project as originally envisioned in 1983 that includes double-tracking.”

Natinsky said “the (private sector) money is available. Obviously a business plan has to be worked out.” Natinsky said that he was not prepared to give out details but there are experienced people that have the knowledge and resources that want to team up with DART to do the project right. “We can kick the can down the road until we have the public money or we look at innovation and we try to do it sooner. It will cost us a lot less to do it today than it will cost us down the road.”

Texas Rail Advocates President Peter LeCody presented a resolution at the meeting to be read into the record.  The resolution from the Board of Directors at TRA said in part “After over thirty years of promises to northern Dallas County and Southern Collin County residents that the Cotton Belt section would be built there is still no firm timeline nor public funding now in place. The Board of Directors of Texas Rail Advocates urges the North Central Texas Council of Governments and all other governmental entities at the local, county and state level to support and promote innovative financing processes involving both the private and public sector which will permit and further the development of the Cotton Belt rail line.”

The Cotton Belt line has been talked about since the 1980’s and has consistently been pushed back on planning charts. While Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) has a active procurement request in progress to attract public funds for the Dallas County side of the project, there is still no definitive funding stream or time frame to get the trains running. Morris indicated that the his office was not even aware that DART had a procurement process in progress.

Complicating the issue, the Dallas City Council recently ousted their DART board members that favored building the Cotton Belt project and a second downtown light rail line at the same time. In short order the DART board may have to give the “go or no-go” on the Cotton Belt and may instead concentrate potential public funds only on what is called the “D-2” second downtown Dallas rail line. If that occurs then private funding of the Cotton Belt would be extremely important in the build out.

Without passenger rail added to the North Central Texas’ regional transportation mix by 2040, highway traffic will become much worse than it is today. The highway travel corridor in North Dallas county will show some of the worst levels of congestion in the future, according to reports prepared by the Council of Governments. The envisioned Cotton Belt line, now just a single track railroad used for local freight traffic, would start in Fort Worth, run through the top of DFW Airport and onward to Coppell, Carrollton, Addison, North Dallas, Richardson and Plano. It would be possible to have a single seat ride across three counties, serving a multitude of business centers and educational facilities as well as medical, shopping and entertainment districts.