DART officials have repeatedly stated that exploring an alternative route for the Cotton Belt Rail Line is out of the question. But council member Sandy Greyson says the issue is far from over.
“That’s what DART says, but we’re saying something different. I do not see this as settled by any means.”
More details about the project were outlined at DART’s recent North Dallas Area Focus Group meeting, revealing plans for elevated roadways at major intersections, including Hillcrest, McCallum, East Davenport, West Davenport and Campbell. They are essentially bridges, raising the road to provide 22 feet of separation for the train to run underneath.
Now, it’s not just homeowners near the tracks who are affected. It’s anyone living along those elevated roadways, Greyson says.
“Bumping up the roads impacts a whole lot of people. They were talking about reconstructing driveways and even buying up a few houses.”
The advocacy group, the Cotton Belt Concerned Citizens Coalition, is still working on gathering a specific number of negatively affected people, but it will likely be several hundred.
Tom Wood, co-chair of the CBCCC and Preston Green Estates resident, was shocked after learning about the elevated roadways and the fact that the train will run on double tracks – 25 feet behind his home.
“I can’t fathom that. There has got to be some kind of law against this,” he says.
Steven Salin, DART’s VP of rail planning, insists that these plans have been in place all along, particularly the double-track system, which is a no-brainer, he says.
“The presentation has been the same from the start,” Salin says. “Two tracks is always the recommended approach. You have to have a bypass as a way to deal with a broken down train or even just routine maintenance.”
DART is still working on addressing all of the concerns about elevated roadways, but Salin says that no amount of negative impact would nix that design. They will just try to alleviate the issues through mitigation.
The Cotton Belt opposition formed after DART revealed it would not be honoring the Natinsky Plan, the agreement it made with the city back in 2006 to run the rail line below grade to alleviate noise and vibration concerns in North Dallas. Last summer, engineers said that due to the flood plain in that area, the rail could only run about 1-2 feet deep in some areas. Read about it in our October 2011 cover story.
Greyson says that concerned homeowners succeeded in stopping the project before the 2006 agreement, and they can do it again if DART does not comply with the Natinsky Plan. Or, the rail line should be built on a different route that doesn’t cut through residential neighborhoods.
Salin argues that DART is not legally bound by a city council resolution.
“Yeah, the city passed a resolution. But DART is not a city agency. I answer to the DART board. We agreed that we would take into consideration the elements in the Natinsky Plan. That’s exactly what I’m doing.”
In fact, he says, DART has complied with nearly all of the provisions in the Natinsky Plan. They’re using a new, cleaner rail line, they’ve eliminated freight trains, they’re incorporating a hike and bike trail into the plan, and they’re working on landscaping mitigation. As for the below-grade system, it ranges from 10 to less than 2 feet along 2.6 miles of the tracks from Meandering Way to Preston.
Salin also believes the opposition is limited to a small group of angry homeowners.
“You’re not necessarily seeing all 5,000 residents saying they don’t want the project. You’re seeing, what I think is a vocal minority speaking out against it because of some kind of perceived impact to them.”
Greyson could not disagree more.
“We’re talking about a lot of people. This is not something DART can ignore.”
She’s meeting with Mayor Mike Rawlings this week to get him up to speed on the project and the negative impact it could have on a large portion of North Dallas.
Funding is still not in place for the Cotton Belt. Officials in the region are working with the North Central Texas Council of Governments to identify potential financing sources.