DALLAS — The North Central Texas Council of Governments is considering funding for a proposed $1.4 billion commuter rail line from southwest Fort Worth to the north Dallas suburb of Plano.
The 62-mile line along an existing freight route known as the Cotton Belt would include stops at DFW International Airport. In hopes of accelerating the project from its original target date of 2030, engineers and planners hope to break ground in 2013, according to Michael Morris, transportation director for NCTCOG and its transportation planning organization known as the Regional Transportation Council.
As NCTCOG studies funding for the route, cities along the line are planning high-density developments that could benefit from the rail access between Dallas and Fort Worth. The east-west line would also tie into Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s light-rail system with two new lines in operation or development.
A new commuter rail line from Denton would also tie into the route. Denton County, which sits directly north of Dallas and Tarrant Counties, is nearing completion of its rail line that links to DART’s light rail in the north Dallas suburb of Carrollton.
DART’s financial plan and 2030 system plan indicate that the agency would have adequate bonding capacity by 2028 to fund its share of the project. The Fort Worth Transportation Authority, known as “the T,” is in the process of securing federal funding for its portion of the Cotton Belt Corridor from downtown Fort Worth to DFW Airport.
DART started procurement efforts in September 2009 with requests for letters of interest from the private companies and consortiums willing to consider joining a public-private partnership.
The Regional Transportation Council has dedicated $2.5 million of Surface Transportation Program-Metropolitan Mobility funds to streamline projects, including the Cotton Belt Rail Corridor. The North Central Texas Council of Governments serves as the fiscal agent of the Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Governments in the North Texas area have sought help from the state Legislature to create a tax base for regional projects, including rail. In the 2009 session, NCTCOG sought the right to hold local-option elections on sales taxes for transportation. But with the economy in a deep recession, transportation funding projects made little headway.
In the current session, Texas lawmakers are dealing with a budget gap that has been estimated as high as $27 billion, so deeper cuts to transportation and other growth-related programs are expected.