Council gives Cotton Belt Rail line a green light

Posted Friday, Jan. 25, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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ARLINGTON -- The North Central Texas Council of Governments on Thursday approved guidelines to trigger the private development of the Cotton Belt Rail line, a proposed 62-mile passenger train service from southwest Fort Worth to Plano.

Approval of the guidelines, which are required by law, will clear the way an unidentified group of developers to submit its proposal for creating stations in three counties and 13 cities, including Fort Worth, Grapevine and possibly Haltom City.

The proposal could reach the council of governments and area transit agencies who are partnering in the project within 10 to 14 days, said Michael Morris, transportation director for the council. But the council won't approve any development opposed by the host cities.

"If we don't get a proposal we like, we don't have to worry about it," Morris said.

The project is an unusual attempt to trigger transit-oriented development in a region that hasn't embraced alternatives to the automobile as quickly as other parts of the U.S.

The unidentified developer presumably would seek to invest its own money in the project, which is expected to cost more than $2.7 billion, in exchange for the right to collect taxes and fees from property values along the line.

The Fort Worth Transportation Authority is seeking to develop more than half of the same rail line for its TEX Rail project through federal grants. Officials have said the projects can complement each other.

Some Tarrant County residents, including elected leaders in Grapevine, have expressed concern that the Cotton Belt project could take away cities' control of property along the line. But council of governments officials sought to assuage those concerns.

"There sure is a lot of speculation about what we're obligating cities along the corridor, which is nothing," Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley said.

According to the procurement guidelines approved Thursday, if an unsolicited proposal is submitted the council of governments will solicit competing proposals for at least 90 days - giving other developers a chance to offer an even sweeter deal for building the Cotton Belt line.

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796

Twitter: @gdickson

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