DART ‘pursuing two paths’ to get rail on Cotton Belt

Dallas, Denton and Collin County residents may not have to wait two decades for an east-west rail corridor to connect to the region’s north-south transit spokes. Well, maybe.

Dallas Area Rapid Transit board member Gary Slagel said today that the transit agency is looking at different ways to speed up getting rail service on the eastern portion of the Cotton Belt line, which runs from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport to Plano.

The agency plans to have service running by 2035. But it faces pressure from member city Addison and regional leaders to expedite that time frame. Slagel said the agency is also exploring whether it start rail service in two phases. The first would run trains from the airport to Addison before 2035. The second would then finish the route from Addison to Plano.

“We are pursuing two paths,” Slagel told the Regional Transportation Council today.

The RTC today discussed a regional policy that could require DART to get rail service going before 2035 or to come up with a stop-gap measure like bus rapid transit until it gets enough money for rail.

Slagel also sits on the RTC, which sets transportation policy and steers mobility money to area projects. So does Addison City Council member Bruce Arfsten, who told his fellow RTC members that his city opposes anything but rail service. Addison has paid more than $244.8 million into DART since 1984, but has yet to see a single transit train run through its city.

Arfsten said a stop-gap like bus rapid transit could actually delay rail service past 2035.

“We don’t really see that as an option,” he said.

Fort Worth’s transportation agency The T plans to run rail from that city’s downtown to the airport on the western side of the Cotton Belt line. That project could get $125 million in federal funds if Congress doesn’t disagree with that portion of President Obama’s proposed budget for next year.

The RTC will likely vote on a policy about DART’s portion of the Cotton Belt line when it votes on the region’s long-range transportation plan, director Michael Morris said Thursday.

“This policy puts DART in a position to advance this corridor if they can,” Morris said.

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