Proposed high-speed rail line may loop around downtown Dallas amid City Council opposition

A proposed high-speed rail line in North Texas could bypass downtown dallas on its way to Fort Worth after city leaders questioned its impact on a planned $3 billion new convention center and a nearby $5 billion redevelopment project.

The Regional Transportation Council, a group of elected and appointed officials that oversees North Texas transit policies and planning, will discuss the new possible route during a meeting Thursday.

A new concept sent to the 45-member transportation council June 28 and obtained by The Dallas Morning News shows the rail line going behind the redevelopment project and over Interstate 35E on its way to arlington and Fort Worth.

Proposed routes shown to Dallas City Council members in March had the overhead rail line running between the new convention center and the redevelopment project. The council voted in June to formally oppose any new above-ground high-speed rail routes through the downtown area.

A rendering shows one of the preferred alignments of a proposed Dallas to Fort Worth high-speed rail line going through downtown Dallas. (Screenshot)

Following the I-30 corridor with stops in Dallas, Arlington and Fort Worth, the rail line has been touted as a way to alleviate increased highway congestion in a metropolitan area of 8 million residents that is expected to grow to over 11 million by 2045.

In a June 28 email, Michael Morris, transportation director of the North Central Texas Council of Governments, said staff “intends to present an improved alignment” by Thursday’s meeting. The NCTCOG works with local governments on regionwide projects. The subject line of the email read “High Speed Rail Concepts Near Downtown to Respond to City of Dallas Resolution.”

Morris didn’t respond to requests for comment about the new proposed route. In March, he told council members the project could cost $6 billion, but he said the estimate would be revised after an environmental review is completed next year.

Regional transportation officials have said the Dallas-to-Fort Worth line would shuttle people from one end to the other in under 30 minutes at a maximum speed of 160 mph.

Another commuter rail line, the Trinity Railway Express, already runs between Dallas and Fort Worth. It can take at least an hour to travel from Eddie Bernice Johnson Union Station in downtown Dallas to the downtown Fort Worth T&P station on the TRE.

Three Dallas City Council members who are part of the Regional Transportation Council told The News that they didn’t know enough about the new rail line route proposal to say whether they supported it.

Council member Omar Narvaez was concerned about how a route avoiding downtown would impact other ways people could move through the area. He noted the downtown plan included pedestrian connections like sky bridges linking to the convention center and Eddie Bernice Johnson Union Station.

“We always talk about connectivity being a goal, and I just don’t know yet if this gets us there,” he said.

Council member Chad West supported the idea of a high-speed rail line linking Dallas to Fort Worth but said he wanted to hear more about the new proposal.

Dallas’ proposed high-speed rail station near Cadiz Street in the Cedars area is planned to be seven stories above ground. It’s the only option that has received federal clearance.

The site is also expected to be the terminus for a separate 240-mile high-speed railway connecting Dallas to Houston. Amtrak is involved in the planning of that project, which hasn’t been opposed by the Dallas City Council.

But council member Cara Mendelsohn was skeptical both high-speed rail lines involving Dallas would come to fruition.

“I am not prepared to agree with any Dallas-to-Fort Worth alignment until I’ve seen a technical analysis from our staff and am assured the Dallas-to-Houston rail will actually be built,” she said.

It’s estimated the Dallas-to-Houston line would take passengers between the cities in about 90 minutes at speeds topping 200 mph. Andy Byford, Amtrak’s senior vice president of high-speed rail development programs, told council members at a March 6 meeting that he estimated the line would cost over $30 billion.

Officials hope the two bullet train projects will connect.

Concerns about the Dallas-to-Fort Worth project prompted the Dallas City Council to request an economic study in March. Council members said in June they would revisit their stance on the project based on the study’s results. City officials have said the study won’t begin until October at the earliest and would take at least three months to complete.

Representatives of Hunt Realty Investments, one of downtown Dallas’ largest property owners and the group that owns more than 20 acres around the Hyatt Regency Hotel, told The News in March they believed an elevated rail line would prevent more new development on their property and around the convention center.

Despite Dallas officials calling to pump the brakes on the project, other regional leaders have pushed for high-speed rail line planning to continue.

Dallas County Judge Clay Lewis Jenkins, who chairs the Regional Transportation Council, Arlington Mayor Jim Ross and Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker are among officials who have publicly supported the project.

“High-speed rail is an integral part of our transportation future, and it will include Tarrant County,” Parker said in a statement last month. She said an economic feasibility study on the impact of high-speed rail should be “a regional decision.”

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