Taking it up a notch

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Passengers get off of the A-train at the Downtown Denton Transit Center on Tuesday.

DCTA officials seek solution to expediting Cotton Belt expansion

To keep up with the needs and demands of a growing region, transportation officials are starting to look at ways to connect to the Cotton Belt Corridor.

North Central Texas Council of Governments transportation director Michael Morris lauds the opportunities presented in this corridor to expand transportation in the region and better accommodate the rapid population growth.

The Cotton Belt connection would provide a 62-mile corridor extending from southwest Fort Worth to Plano and Richardson and provide a connection to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

Morris recently briefed the Denton County Transportation Authority board members on the Cotton Belt plan.

“We are working with our regional partners to find good solutions for the whole area,” DCTA President Jim Cline said. “As we look at expanding the regional rail system, it’s going to take innovative solutions to deliver for our public. We need to be open to alternatives. We have established a good partnership between DART, DCTA and the Forth Worth T [Fort Worth Transportation Authority] and we feel the three agencies working together can continue to expand the system.”

Cline could not get into specific details surrounding the possible expansion as he and other members of the board signed nondisclosure agreements at September’s board meeting.

Morris said planning for the Cotton Belt began about three years ago. DART officials had said they could not get to the eastern side of the Cotton Belt Corridor until 2035. Coupled with some other areas in the region that have not had rail service in a number of years and Forth Worth trying to get to the airport by 2015, Morris said there had to be ways to develop partnerships for everyone to benefit.

“Where we are now, the next phase of the report is to do the financial analysis [on how] to involve the money and then pay it back,” Morris said in a Tuesday interview.

Morris said there is interest on the part of the private sector to do their own financial analysis on the costs of constructing the new connection, saving the transportation agencies anywhere from $5 million to $20 million.

“The companies involved in this are the largest in the world,” Morris said. “These aren’t mom-and-pop organizations. They are putting in an awful lot of time; they probably have 20 people working on it right now. They are betting on themselves that they will somehow be able to get it across the goal line.”

Morris said with millions of people still moving into the region, there’s an opportunity to build a rail line across the spine of the region and create higher densities around the rail stations. These developments will help reduce highway costs and vehicle emissions, Morris said.

Morris said future steps would involve talking to DART about rail right of way to help with the connection.

In Denton County, talks would focus on finding a seamless way from Denton to the airport, requiring some conversations with officials in the Carrollton area. Morris said Grapevine is putting in money. The Regional Transportation Council and the Texas Department of Transportation are investing $100 million combined. Morris said officials also hope to get federal funding.

In addition, Morris noted that officials are looking at building a rail manufacturing plant in the region.

Morris said many people around the country are watching Texas to see and take notes on how things develop.

“We anticipate an unsolicited proposal somewhere in the Thanksgiving-Christmas time frame, and then everyone will be able to see what the proposal is,” he said.

BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875. His e-mail address is blewis@dentonrc.com .


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