Grapevine is planning for the new TEX Rail commuter rail depot in a few years. Joyce Marshall Star-Telegram
Grapevine is planning for the new TEX Rail commuter rail depot in a few years. Joyce Marshall Star-Telegram

Your Commute

Tex RAIL offers Grapevine challenge and chance

By Gordon Dickson

gdickson@star-telegram.com

February 15, 2015 07:07 PM

UPDATED February 15, 2015 07:17 PM

GRAPEVINE

For decades, Grapevine residents have enjoyed celebrating their city’s Western, rural roots — often whimsically.

Visitors can still check out a working blacksmith shop along historical Main Street. Atop the clock tower at the replica Cotton Belt Hotel, a pair of life-size, animatronic figures known as “Would-Be Train Robbers” perform a gun-fighting skit each day at noon, 3, 6 and 9 p.m., their recorded voices broadcast on loudspeakers for tourists and other passers-by.

But, like a locomotive headlight in the distance, signs are emerging that a potentially massive change is on the way, one that is already forcing city leaders to take a hard look at how they merge their past, present and future.

The change is TEX Rail, a proposed commuter rail line that could begin service in Grapevine as soon as late 2018. TEX Rail is a planned 27-mile passenger rail service stretching from downtown Fort Worth to Terminal B at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. It would have up to 10 stations, including one at Grapevine’s Main Street.

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The rail line is expected to carry more than 10,000 passengers per day initially, and nearly 15,000 daily by 2035, according to Federal Transit Administration modeling used to calculate the project’s worthiness for federal funding. That’s more riders than on the Trinity Railway Express, which connects downtown Fort Worth to Dallas.

For Grapevine city leaders, TEX Rail is both exciting and a little concerning. They are eager to embrace the prospect of transit-oriented development, which could enhance the quality of life in the historical city center and bring new retail dollars to the thriving community of about 50,000 residents. But they also recognize that any missteps could spoil the city’s agrarian charm.

“When you get to Grapevine, it needs to feel like Norman Rockwell is still here,” Councilwoman Sharron Spencer said during a recent City Council workshop.

New depot

Grapevine’s plans include building a TEX Rail station — or depot, as city officials prefer to call it — at the northeast corner of South Main Street and Dallas Road. The new depot would be adjacent to the city’s historical 1888 depot, a tiny yellow wooden building that serves as a boarding point for passengers on the Grapevine Vintage Railroad excursion trains that operate most weekends.

The city plans to continue offering excursion rides even after TEX Rail opens on the same tracks.

In 2009, the City Council bought the former American Locker building at South Main Street and Dallas Road for $3 million and tentatively plans to tear it down to make way for the depot, which could feature a collection of retail stores.

Also, Grapevine officials are looking at possibly creating a special zoning district to strictly control growth within several blocks of the planned depot. There is even talk of slapping a moratorium on development in the area until new zoning rules can be drafted.

The City Council and Planning and Zoning Commission will have a workshop at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall to discuss those and other possibilities.

TEX Rail

About 43 trains per day are expected to run on the TEX Rail line.

Construction of the commuter rail route is expected to cost $862 million, and the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, also known as the T, is applying for a federal new-starts grant to cover up to half that amount.

The project is on schedule to receive a full-funding grant agreement by January, or possibly sooner, said Bob Baulsir, who last month was appointed the T’s vice president of TEX Rail and procurement.

A full-funding grant agreement is essentially a commitment from the U.S. Transportation Department to cover the costs of a project, usually over several years. President Barack Obama’s proposed 2016 budget includes $100 million for TEX Rail, although that budget must be approved by Congress.

Locally, the operating costs and some capital costs of TEX Rail are expected to be covered mostly by a half-cent sales tax generated in cities that are full T members, including Fort Worth and Richland Hills, as well as by a special arrangement with Grapevine.

Grapevine has a different arrangement than other North Texas cities with transit services. A half-cent sales tax is collected for economic development in Grapevine and, of that money 75 percent — about $9 million a year — goes to the T for commuter rail. The remaining 25 percent of that revenue — about $3 million annually — is being set aside for economic development in the city, including the depot.

Those revenues have been set aside since late 2006, when Grapevine voters approved the sales tax.

Grapevine has $6.3 million on hand in the economic development fund balance to build a TEX Rail depot but can access more funding if necessary, said Gary Livingston, Grapevine management services director.

So raising money for a depot is less of an issue than determining precisely how to spend it. Mayor William D. Tate said another key factor is creating the ground rules for development.

Council members said they can envision Dallas Road becoming a sort of perpendicular extension of Main Street, with businesses popping up within several blocks on either side of the depot. One idea is to create a special-use district that applies special zoning rules for businesses wishing to operate there.

“The depot is going to be a project of the people,” Tate said during the workshop. “We know some people are going to be bringing in some things we don’t think are appropriate, and we’re going to have some mistakes if we don’t get that master plan updated.”

Tarrant County model

Grapevine’s depot plans could become a model for so-called “sustainable development” projects in the western part of North Texas, regional planners say.

In particular, Grapevine offers a rare opportunity for transit-oriented development in Tarrant County, an area that has fewer neighborhoods with walkable residential, retail and dining options than cities such as Dallas.

“Grapevine is thinking ahead, which is great,” said Karla Weaver, a program manager at the North Central Texas Council of Governments, which is analyzing 74 rail stations in the region — mostly in the Dallas area.

Dallas’ Mockingbird Station, which features many high-rise residential and commercial buildings as well as destinations such as the Angelika theatre, is served by Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s light-rail lines. It is often held up as an example of Texas-style sustainable development.

But cities such as Grapevine have a chance to redefine that image and make walkable communities more attractive in cities that used to be considered bedroom communities.

“Not every station needs to look like a full-blown Mockingbird,” she said.

The council of governments has funded $90 million in sustainable development programs since 2001, including two grants totaling $1.5 million that went to Grapevine to help with sidewalks and street landscaping, she said.

But most of what Grapevine has in mind is home-grown development. And that’s just fine with residents such as Leslie Moore, a stay-at-home mother of two children who grew up in Grapevine and after a few years in Fort Worth recently moved back.

“Grapevine has always capitalized on keeping things historic,” said Moore, who recently spent an afternoon checking out Grapevine Vintage Railroad equipment with her son Carter, 3, and daughter Kate, 1.

“Main Street is vital to Grapevine. It’s what people know,” she said. “I don’t ever see Grapevine just throwing up a structure.”

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796

Twitter: @gdickson

Grapevine’s TEX Rail plans

Residents who want to learn more about Grapevine’s plans to build a depot and surrounding development for the planned TEX Rail commuter station are encouraged to attend a joint City Council/Planning and Zoning Commission workshop.

When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: City Hall, 200 S. Main St., Grapevine

More information: Grapevinetexas.gov.