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Formed in 2002 and funded in 2003, the Texas-based Denton County Transportation Authority
(DCTA) did the unthinkable in June 2011 when it opened its 21-mile A-train commuter rail line for revenue service using no federal funds.
“This was not a New Starts project,” says Jim Cline, DCTA’s president. “The capital portion of the project was funded through sales tax and funded from the county through a concession payment from a toll road that was contracted a few years ago.”
Created by House Bill 3323, under Chapter 460 of the Texas Transportation Code, approved by the 77th Texas Legislature and signed into law by the Governor in 2001, DCTA is a coordinated county transportation authority that earned a 73% approval rating to form by the Denton County voters in November 2002.
Recognizing the importance of public transportation to a small urban county facing tremendous population and employment growth, DCTA pushed an aggressive schedule for the launch of the A-train, which stretches from Denton to Carrollton and connects with Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s (DART) Green Line.
Realizing that the federal New Starts process threatened to delay the project, the DCTA board directed staff to forgo the federal process and seek additional funding resources.
“Back in 2007, we were in the environmental phase of the federal process and working under the New Starts parameters at the time, which was strictly based off of cost effectiveness,” explains Dee Leggett, VP, communications and planning. “We struggled with meeting the thresholds and also staying on our aggressive timeline of tying in with DART in late 2010/early 2011. It was really our desire to push for implementing a project sooner, rather than later, that led to the strategic decision by our board to forego the New Starts process.”
A half-cent Denton County sales tax paid for only 20% of the cost to build the A-train. The remaining 80% came from a new Regional Toll Revenue funding initiative, which was a result of the Texas Legislature enabling the Texas Department of Transportation to consider public- and private-sector partnerships to finance roadways.
The first agreement to generate Regional Toll Revenue funds was with the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA). In exchange for the opportunity to construct, operate and maintain a 26-mile toll road for 52 years, NTTA paid the region $3.2 billion. The Regional Transportation Council (RTC) used these funds to expedite about 200 transportation projects, one of which was DCTA’s A-train. In April 2008, the RTC approved funds for the purchase of railcars, and in August 2008, $190.2 million was approved for the completion of DCTA’s A-train.
“Our chairman, who is a member of the RTC, was quite familiar with some of the different funding pots that would become available, and we knew that there was going to be a concession arrangement for the toll revenues that would create opportunities for funding,” says Cline. “Obviously, we weren’t sure of where our project would fall, but we knew it was a priority project for Denton County, which gave us a pretty good chance.”