Siddharth Sai Vadlamani
Contributor

Development of new Cotton Belt Rail Line will benefit UTD, DFW despite large price tag

How important is public transit to you? At UTD, we have a
large population of students — international students and local residents alike
— who do not have cars but need to get around. Their solution? The 100 miles of
light rail track and the vast network of busses provided by the Dallas Area
Rapid Transit. DART’s latest project, named the Cotton Belt Rail Line, is a
rail network that will connect Plano to the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. This
rail line, although expensive, is a much-needed infrastructure project for the
metroplex as it will open up new transit routes, allow passengers to travel
around the metroplex far more efficiently and will very likely pave the way for
further developments.

The rail line is expected to be a faster way to transport
passengers through the metroplex. Currently, DART does not have a straight
east-west light rail corridor, so it would be a needed addition to get to DFW.
As of now, if a UTD student wished to travel between the Cityline/Bush station
and DFW Airport, the trip would take an average of 1.5 hours, whereas Love
Field would take 45 minutes. These figures are based on Orange Line timetables
and also consider the fact that the train is already at the platform at
Cityline/Bush. Current projections show that the average travel time between
Cityline/Bush station and DFW Airport via the Cotton Belt line would be at
least one hour at its slowest. One thing to keep in mind is the fact that the
rail line will not cross through Dallas Love Field, so passengers will still
have to utilize current DART infrastructure to catch their Southwest Airlines
flight.

This rail line will change the heavy car culture that has
been ingrained in our society for generations. Many transit riders are stuck to
the north-south thoroughfares that the current DART system covers. By
introducing another rail line that would traverse the metroplex east-west,
users who are heavily car-dependent will get a chance to try a new form of
transportation due to the fact that this line will be going through areas that
currently do not have rail. Aside from that, light rail is more cost effective
when it comes to cost of transport versus paying for gas for an average day’s
commute. DART currently already has a fair capping promotion for frequent riders,
as well as discounted monthly passes, and as a UTD student, you can get a
transit pass for free.

The cost of the proposed Cotton Belt line is projected to be
a hefty $1.1 billion. However, students at UTD and those who depend on public
transit would agree that this is a no-brainer. Yes, $1.1 billion is not a small
amount of money, but there is more than just a convenience benefit with this
rail line. A commuter rail network requires the track, stations, transit
centers and new infrastructure to support it. Take Cityline/Bush station, for
example. When DART constructed the Red Line in the late 1990s, there was no
sign of development — it was just a transit station surrounded by fields. Look
at that very same station today. State Farm has a large office campus as part
of the CityLine development, which also features hotels, retail outlets and
plenty of dining options. There’s no reason why the same potential for
development can’t happen in places such as Carrollton, Farmers Branch and
Coppell — principal cities along the Cotton Belt line.

The area around UTD — specifically, the area between Synergy
Park Boulevard and Waterview Parkway — will benefit from enhanced economic and
infrastructure development with this rail line. DART has a plan to construct
the UTD/Synergy Park station, which will be placed directly behind Northside.
Currently, that area is already developed with retail and high-density
residential development, so having a rail line as part of this development will
definitely help students and residents in the area. The steep price tag of the
Cotton Belt line may deter many taxpayers, but this is definitely an investment
that will quickly pay off in spades for DART, UTD and the entire Dallas/Fort
Worth area.