Fort Worth may back split plan for Cotton Belt rail line

Posted Tuesday, Apr. 02, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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More than a month after rejecting development of the Cotton Belt line, Fort Worth officials say they are willing to support the 62-mile commuter rail project as long as it doesn't sidetrack federal money they want to be spent for a rail line ending at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.

In a resolution to be considered by the Fort Worth City Council today, the council wants the Cotton Belt project to be developed separately from the TEX Rail project, the 37-mile of track they hope to open in 2016 that runs from southwest Fort Worth to Grapevine and the airport.

"Our focus is on TEX Rail. Our emphasis is on getting to the airport," Fort Worth Councilman Jungus Jordan said. "We need to build a connection on the western side of the Metroplex."

The compromise resolution was hashed out last week by Jordan, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and officials from the Fort Worth Transportation Authority and North Central Texas Council of Governments.

Fort Worth's support is considered crucial because Cotton Belt supporters are in Austin these days trying to get the state Legislature's permission to create a special tax district covering the 13 cities and three counties that would be connected by the project.

Fort Worth's decision in February to reject the Cotton Belt project has those supporters worried that their bill won't get anywhere during the current legislative session.

Split projects

Price said that while she would be interested in learning about any plans for private development that could make public dollars stretch further, she doesn't want the Cotton Belt project to cause any further delays on the TEX Rail plan, which has been discussed since 2005.

Fort Worth isn't seeking private development of TEX Rail. Instead, the Fort Worth Transportation Authority is applying for a federal new starts grant to cover up to half the estimated nearly $1 billion cost.

Mainly, Price and other Fort Worth officials say that if TEX Rail is awarded federal money they don't want any of the funds being transferred to other portions of the Cotton Belt project in the Dallas area.

To prevent that from happening, the resolution the council will consider Tuesday calls for the Cotton Belt to be developed in two separate agreements -- one for the TEX Rail portion west of DFW Airport, and the other for the cities east of DFW Airport.

"The eastern part from the airport to Plano, they're going to do that on their own," Price said. "Our focus is in the TEX Rail project. We want the Cotton Belt proposal split into two pieces."

Taxing districts

Supporters of the Cotton Belt project say it's important for other cities in the region to be connected to DFW, including Coppell, Carrollton, Richardson and Plano -- even though Dallas Area Rapid Transit isn't expected to have funds for such expansion for at least 20 years.

But an unidentified developer has notified the council of governments that it intends to make an unsolicited proposal to develop the Cotton Belt line. The details haven't been released, but generally the idea is that the developer would arrange the upfront financing for the project and would be repaid over many years by increased property values and transit-oriented development along the corridor.

Some Fort Worth officials say they don't need a private developer to provide financing on their side. If an area has potential for transit-oriented development, the city already has the power to create its own special tax district, Jordan said.

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796

Twitter: @gdickson

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