The tug-of-war for transit dollars between Dallas and the northern suburbs ended in a draw, with Dallas Area Rapid Transit approving funding for both $1 billion rail projects simultaneously.
The Cotton Belt rail line from D/FW Airport to Plano and the D2 project tunneling under downtown Dallas will both be funded and built by DART in less than a decade.
Peter Braster, director of special projects for the city of Plano, makes the daily commute from Oak Lawn in Dallas to Plano so he said he sees the need for both projects.
“Traffic is bad on both sides of the freeway. It’s not [just] about moving people through downtown Dallas,” Braster said. “We have a tremendous amount of jobs out [in Collin County], good jobs."
The news comes as Tarrant County gets ready to launch TEXRail train service from downtown Fort Worth to Terminal B at D/FW Airport in late 2018.
The Cotton Belt would continue the TEXRail passenger service from the airport east to Cypress Waters, Carrollton, Addison, Richardson and Plano, providing a link to the Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s Green and Red lines. D/FW Airport would act as the transfer point between TEXRail, the Orange Line and the Cotton Belt extension.
The D2 project gives DART a second route through the central business district rather than running all four train lines on one set of tracks.
Dallas City Councilman Philip Kingston has been a strong advocate for the D2 project. But he called the Cotton Belt a “complete waste of time.”
He said he doesn’t think the ridership estimates justify the project and he’s concerned about DART dipping into cash reserves, which could negatively affect the transit authority’s credit rating. That in turn makes it more expensive for DART to borrow money for any project, Kingston said.
The Dallas City Council recently appointed Jon-Bertrell Killen and Dominique Torres to the DART Board and both voted against funding either proposal.
Killen said improving bus service should be a higher priority and doing the Cotton Belt and the downtown subway project will only delay that priority.
All aboard the Cotton Belt
The Cotton Belt line will have 11 stations in seven cities along a 26-mile corridor stretching from Terminal B at D/FW Airport northeast to Shiloh Road in East Plano. The $1.1 billion project is still in the preliminary engineering and environmental impact stage, said Chad Edwards, assistant vice president of capital planning for DART.
For Addison, the project fulfills a promise made when that city joined DART in the 1980s.
Initially, the majority of the Cotton Belt line will remain a single track with double track at the stations.
DART could add sidings as train traffic increases, Edwards said.
The Cotton Belt will share the two D/FW Airport stations with TEXRail before heading northeast to the Cypress Waters office and residential development. The line would continue on and eventually it would veer off the old Cotton Belt tracks and run parallel to DART’s Red Line with a stop at the CityLine in Richardson and a new 12th Street station in Plano. The train will reconnect with the Cotton Belt as it heads east to the final stop at Shiloh Road in Plano.
The Cotton Belt gives the suburbs a faster connection to the airport without having to take DART all the way to downtown Dallas, Braster said.
But it’s not just about getting to D/FW Airport. The Shilo Station will be near Raytheon and other job centers in east Plano.
“That’s right in the middle of our research and development and commercial property district,” Braster said. “That means a lot for those businesses there.”
The days of downtown Dallas shutting down after 5 p.m. are long gone--the central business district has an estimated 11,000 people living in it, according to Downtown Dallas Inc. And more apartments and condominiums are on the way, prompting DART leaders to search for another route through the densely packed streets.
In September, a Dallas City Council subcommittee unanimously picked a route that starts at Victory Station near the American Airlines Center and ends near the Deep Ellum Station. The route would add four new stations.
The $1.4 billion D2 route will take years to plan and build. It’s not expected to be finished until the end of 2024. When completed, the Green and Orange lines will use the route.
“I think downtowners will welcome it,” Kingston said. “In my view it serves the DART rider who lives outside of downtown much more than the ones who live in downtown.”
Privately funded bullet train hub
In other transportation news, The Texas Central Railway, a Dallas-based company is working on a high-speed train that would make the Dallas to Houston commute in 90 minutes. Plans are already in the works for a massive high-speed rail train station near Cadiz Street and Riverfront Boulevard just southwest of downtown Dallas. The privately funded high-speed rail station would be similar to putting a small airport next to downtown Dallas.
When asked about plans to connect, DART officials said they are aware of Texas Central Railway’s plans and will take it into consideration as they plan D2 and the expansion of the Dallas Streetcar service.