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March 06, 2013

Cotton Belt commuter rail plan in peril?


As the Star-Telegram's man at City Hall, Scott Nishimura, reported last night, the Fort Worth City Council has rejected a resolution supporting the proposed 62-mile Cotton Belt commuter rail project.

The move raises serious questions about whether supporters of the ambitious Cotton Belt plan can manage to get a bill through the current legislative session making it legal to create a special tax district in 13 cities and three counties. The filing deadline for non-emergency bills is Friday.

From Fort Worth's point of view, the Cotton Belt project was getting in the way of the TEX Rail project. TEX Rail is a proposed 37-mile commuter rail line from southwest Fort Worth to the north end of Dallas Fort Worth Airport. It essentially would serve as the western half (or slightly more than half) of the Cotton Belt project.

But the effort to bring in private financing for the Cotton Belt project - mainly to make up for a lack of transit funding on the Dallas side - was overshadowing the effort to apply for federal new-start transit funds on the western side.

"It would have muddied up the TEX Rail project," Fort Worth Councilman Jungus Jordan said Wednesday morning, just before a Tarrant Regional Transportation Coalition meeting began. Besides, Jordan added, "There's nothing in there (the Cotton Belt plan) that we can't do on our own with special tax districts, PIDs, TIFs."

Those following the Cotton Belt project had said the expected a pair of North Texas senators, Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, and John Carona, R-Dallas, to file a bill making it possible to build the Cotton Belt line. But Davis said last month she was waiting to hear from all the cities along the line to ensure the project had local support.

Fort Worth's action Tuesday night would seem to give Davis and Carona the answer they needed. The vote in Fort Worth was 6-2-1, with Mayor Betsy Price absent.

Councilmen Joel Burns and Danny Scarth voted against Jordan's motion to reject the Cotton Belt support.

The Cotton Belt corridor is expected to take at least $2.7 billion to develop. An unidentified team of companies has notified the North Central Texas Council of Governments that they wish to develop the line, using property values and station development along the corridor to repay their investment.

But on the western half of the Cotton Belt project, the Fort Worth Transportation Authority is vigorously pursuing TEX Rail, which by itself is expected to cost $1 billion, with up to half possibly coming from a federal new-starts grant.

The Cotton Belt project would encompass everything in the TEX Rail line, plus an additional 25 miles to the northeast to Plano or Richardson. The project would boldly connect Metroplex neighborhoods such as Fort Worth's Texas Christian University, Grapevine's historical Main Street and Dallas County's Addison Circle - places that today seem far apart.



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joe stanton

It is unfortunate that with the booming TExas economy as Gov. Perry notes is because we know what to do in this overall perilous and unsteady business climate, yet we Texans have maintained here versus the nation something very notable. Sadly, that we cannot get this done. I was sure hopng that if Florida could not get commuter rail with the Federal Funds and California balked under Jerry Brown, that Texas would come though shining bright. More business will come to the Lone Star State and honestly the next 50-100 years would be promising. But we are arguing over nickels and INSTEAD keep spending on toll roads. We see this mentality has suffered for states like DC, NJ and NY and PA. why do we shoot ourselves over and over with the land to make $2.7B project happen at this poignant point in our history.We will blow 30.B in transit corridors and surcharge is like to death tax. But this minor spend is a no go.

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