The Cotton Belt is Dead, at Least For Now

In the end, it wasn't the opposition of the Fort Worth City Council that killed the Cotton Belt project, nor was it the opposition from neighbors in North Dallas. Not directly, at least. Rather, the 62-mile commuter rail that would run from Plano to Fort Worth, died a quiet death at the state legislature in Austin.

State Senator John Carona's bill to create a special taxing districtrail improvement district to fund the $2 billion-plus project never made it out of committee, effectively ending its chances of being completed as transportation planners had envisioned.

The Star-Telegram's Gordon Dickson does a thorough post-mortem on the project. The bill's death in the legislature means a still mostly mysterious group of private developers and construction interests won't be offering to help pick up the tab as was initially planned.

Former Dallas City Councilman Ron Natinsky, who's representing the consortium, told the Star-Telegram that the group is "continuing to vet our various options."

But the Cotton Belt isn't quite doornail dead, as Dickson reports.

[O]fficials say they may actually have more success building the line as two separate projects -- one for the Fort Worth area, and another for greater Dallas.

On the west side, the 37-mile portion of the Cotton Belt project connecting Fort Worth to DFW -- better known in Tarrant County as TEX Rail -- is on track to be built by 2016. On the east side, it's the remaining 25-mile portion of the Cotton Belt north and east of the airport -- extending to cities such as Coppell, Addison, Richardson and Plano -- that faces a less certain future.

"Clearly, the Cotton Belt is back to being two different projects," said Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments. "On the west, we'll proceed with TEX Rail, and the east side they will do the best they can."

It remains to be seen how good "the best they can" actually is. The main reason the Cotton Belt was re-imagined as a huge public-private partnership was that DART was decades from being able to fund it otherwise. DART spokesman Morgan Lyons says the agency remains optimistic.

"We'll continue evaluating options for the Cotton Belt," he wrote in an email this morning. "There is still substantial regional interest in the corridor."