Could Fort Worth's Opposition Derail the Cotton Belt?

Categories: Transportation

Thumbnail image for CottonBeltRender.jpg
In September, transportation planners revealed that they had finally found a way to finance the $2.7 billion Cotton Belt, the 62-mile commuter rail line they hope someday will connect Richardson and Fort Worth.

A private consortium, the members of which are still being kept under wraps, had agreed to take on the project. All, then, that was standing in the way were the minor tasks of getting buy-in from the 13 cities and three counties and convincing the state legislature to create a special taxing district to help fund the project.

It was all progressing quite nicely until this week, when the Fort Worth City Council passed a resolution opposing the project.

The council isn't opposed to turning the Cotton Belt rail corridor into a commuter line. They just want it done on their terms. The Fort Worth Transportation Authority was already planning for years to use the 37 miles of the corridor under its control for the TEX Rail project, which it hopes to have operating by 2016, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

But the decision has the effect of casting doubt on the Cotton Belt's future at a critical moment, since the deadline for filing the bill to create the special taxing district is tomorrow.

Former Dallas City Councilman Ron Natinsky, who's serving as a consultant for the Cotton Belt project, said the decision "came very much as a surprise to us." It isn't quite clear to him what Fort Worth council members are objecting to, since it's been made apparent that any taxing district would maintain cities' jurisdiction over their property. But he said it won't kill the project.

As a matter of fact, the bill to create the taxing district is undergoing some "last-minute tweaks" and will be filed by tomorrow, though he declined to say by whom.

"From an overall team perspective, we're continuing to work," Natinsky said this morning. "We want to see the project through to fruition."

But Fort Worth is one of 13 cities involved in the project and the westernmost one at that. Natinsky can envision a scenario in which the commuter line simply stops before it reaches the city, but "we'd hate to see the Cotton Belt not include Fort Worth."

Natinsky's optimistic, though. The private consortium has had "good conversations" with the city. "We are continuing to work with them to address whatever the issues are."

So stay tuned.

Update on March 8: Republican state Senator John Carona of Dallas filed a bill to create the Cotton Belt Rail Improvement District yesterday afternoon. Now rail proponents just have to get it passed.


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26 comments
Bud
Bud

FYI, Fort Worth has signaled all along that this ubersecret private developer deal probably wasn't going to pass. Anybody who was surprised hasn't been paying attention --

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

Been waiting long to use "derail" in a train story, Eric?

downtownworker
downtownworker

So will the secret consortium be made public with the filing tomorrow?

Fort Worth is probably throwing a temper tantrum over the high-speed rail line proposed for Dallas to Houston. 

WylieH
WylieH

They probably just want to ensure that the project facilitates a wealth transfer from Dallas to Ft. Worth in manner similar to the NTTA (where profits from the Dallas North Tollway will indirectly subsidize the new toll road in Southwest Ft. Worth), and DFW Airport (where tax collections and private development are structured to heavily favor Ft. Worth and Tarrant County to the detriment of Dallas County and the City of Dallas).

Mervis
Mervis

Don't distract them with details Bud. That's not the way this board operates. hee hee

kduble
kduble

@downtownworker It's a pity. The Fort Worth council doesn't really understand how transportation projects work. The most economical segment for HSR would be downtown Houston to downtown Dallas. The thing to do is to build this most promising segment first and then, once the ridership is established, build extensions to places like Galveston, Fort Worth and Denton in stages.

This is what the Oak Cliff streetcar group did. They got the first leg funded from Union Station to Methodist Hospital. Now, before ground has even been broken -- and construction starts Monday -- they've since acquired additional funding for extensions in each direction to the convention center and Bishop Arts. Yet, they never could have gotten these if they hadn't first worked to fund the initial segment.

kduble
kduble

@WylieH Let's knock off with the wealth transfer stuff. We're all a region, and we'll all drive these roads at some point.

Bud
Bud

@WylieH It's a regional tollway agency and a regional airport.

Was that not made clear on your side of the county line? If not, please help clear that up.

--Bud Kennedy

Fort Worth

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@WylieH DFW is a boon for Grapevine, far more than Ft Worth.  That IS Tarrant County.  Dallas has complained, but the attys drew it up the way it is, and Dallas long ago agreed to it. 

WylieH
WylieH

@kduble The question is why do residents of the City of Dallas bear a disproportionate share of the costs?  In case you haven't noticed, the quality of municipal services within the City of Dallas are significantly inferior to those provided in the suburbs and the western part of the Metroplex.  Unbalanced spending by unelected regional bodies that are poorly understood by the electorate is one of the primary reasons.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@Bud Bud, you know Ed Wallace would point to the "Turnpike" and the fair leadership of Tom Vandergriff.  His son seems to be cut from different cloth--His son leads the NTCOG still?

WylieH
WylieH

@Bud Bud, a fun game to play is to compare and contrast the quality of Dallas County/City of Dallas representatives sitting on various regional boards to those representing Ft. Worth, for example.


As a general rule, the Ft. Worth reps tend to be highly qualified, effective representatives who work as aggressive advocates on the part of Ft. Worth.  The City of Dallas reps---- ahh, not so much--- for the most part, the Dallas seats are filled with folks who seem preoccupied with making sure the right people (politically connected insiders, NOT constituents) get their proper share of no-bid contracts.  Frequently, they are under-educated people with little ability to understand the actual functions of the entities over which they are expected to exert oversight.


But you already know this, Bud.  It's an open secret; indeed, it's a bit of a "sport" among the folks who run North Texas to mock the City of Dallas reps to these various regional boards behind their backs.

tcufrog
tcufrog

@scottindallas 

Maybe if Dallas residents would stop electing morons and corrupt politicians then Dallas would get their fair share.  I grew up in Dallas it's been like that all my life. No wonder people like me leave for better run cities.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@scottindallas and Wylie will never, ever let it go.  It seems like it his mission in life, and more power to him for it, but when the city doesnt  give 2 shits about it, it may be time to move on

WylieH
WylieH

@CornyDoggy @WylieH You have to do a bit of digging on this.  With respect to the Dallas North Tollway, it is common knowledge that this road was paid for long, long ago.  There are also public records that show that the Southwest Freeway in Ft. Worth wasn't viable on a stand alone basis.  The NTTA basically uses the Dallas North Tollway as a cash cow to fund suburban sprawl (which benefits the suburbs to the detriment of Dallas).

At DFW Airport, even though the City of Dallas owns the majority of the airport, all of the terminals and the rental car facility are located wholly within Tarrant County-- so the vast majority of the sales taxes go to Tarrant County entities-  Dallas collects a small amount.  WIth respect to property taxes, American Airlines directs ALL of its taxes on its airplane fleet to Tarrant County, even though it could just as easily pay that money to Dallas County, instead.  To my knowledge, no one from Dallas has ever complained.  Also, the vast majority of the property tax and job creating jobs at DFW (and the golf resort) are located on the Tarrant County side.  In contrast, the Dallas County side has an extra runway, miscellaneous non-revenue generating airport facilities, the jail, sewage treatment facilities and a lake contaminated with airport waste.

WylieH
WylieH

@kduble Agreed we already have enough roads-- again, the problem is ensuring that Dallas receives its fair share of the "buckets of cash" controlled by regional authorities.  When these entities prioritize the construction of expensive new highways to the far suburbs over the maintenance of existing infrastructure, the City of Dallas loses.

A "balance" needs to be maintained.  

Unfortunately, however, the City of Dallas and Dallas County tend to appoint marginally qualified folks to represent it (imagine for a moment, if you will, someone like Vonciel Hill making a determination as to who her appointee to regional body X is going to be--- not a pretty sight).  Or take the NTTA--- who do you think John Wylie Price appoints to represent Dallas County?  What do you think that person's mandate would be?

kduble
kduble

@WylieH @kduble And then again, it could be because Dallas already has enough roads. Our biggest issue is maintaining the ones we have.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@WylieH @Bud so Dallas gets run over because little brother is smarter, sounds like you need to get pissy with the city, not with the projects they screw themselves on

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@ScottsMerkin @scottindallas My father's senior partner wrote the DFW arrangement while working for Grapevine and Irving.  They never stop crowing about what they've done for Grapevine.  They got the BassPro Shops, the El Paso eminent domain case and a few others.  BassPro may be good for Grapevine, but that trend (of giving money to private firms to open doors, and then to offset their sales taxes) is a pernicious event and cycle.  It seldom works for the other tax payers and firms.  I DO think BassPro may be a boon for Grapevine, but only cause they have so few residents and residential zoning for a town it's size.  I think there should be Federal limits, as in the aggregate, these subsidies are destructive (Grapevine gave BassPro 25%% in cash than it cost to build that facility)

WylieH
WylieH

@ScottsMerkin @scottindallas One of the oldest games in the City of Dallas and Dallas County has been political leaders allowing regional interests to pick the pockets of Dallas' residents, so long as they make generation political contributions, hire the right subcontractors, etc.

CornyDoggy
CornyDoggy

@WylieH

Well that's all extremely depressing.  Thanks for the info though

WylieH
WylieH

@Mervis Sorry, may bad.  You're right, the lake is in Euless-- just to the east of the golf course.

WylieH
WylieH

@Mervis AA did indeed take over the old Delta facility, and you are correct about the Fed EX hub and Flight Safety facility.... other than that, just about all the good, taxpaying stuff is on the Tarrant County side.

Mervis
Mervis

And I belive they cleaned it up.

The East side also has the old Delta maintenance base (looks like AA may use it), the Flight Safety training facility and the Fed Ex hub.

Mervis
Mervis

The lake is in Euless.

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