The Dallas Area Rapid Transit board unanimously approved a plan Tuesday night for how North Texans probably will use two future passenger rail lines to reach the region's largest economic engine, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
"Start packing your bags, we're going to get you to D/FW soon," board chairman Randall Chrisman said moments before the vote.
The board's decision solidified plans for the Orange Line, which will connect downtown Dallas to the airport by 2013. The line will run through Irving, whose officials have spent years putting together what is probably the country's largest collection of transit-oriented development projects.
Tuesday's vote also included plans to later add a smaller loop that will connect the Orange Line, the planned Cotton Belt and the airport.
The Orange Line-Cotton Belt connector is also expected to further tie those lines into a planned North Texas rail network that would connect several cities in Dallas, Tarrant, Collin, Denton and Rockwall counties.
"This is a momentous decision," board member John Danish said.
The vote also essentially ended a recent dust-up over the Orange Line. Irving city officials, business leaders and residents were angered earlier this year after DART said it was exploring other alignment options for the last leg of the line.
Some of those plans would have eliminated a direct connection to the airport. Irving leaders have repeatedly pointed out that the plan for a direct airport tie-in was the catalyst for a portfolio of current and planned development valued at more than $4 billion.
Danish, who represents Irving on the DART board, said before Tuesday's vote that one of the reasons the Dallas Cowboys left Texas Stadium for a new venue in Arlington is that residents refused to pull their sales tax contributions for DART in a 1996 election.
"Today is a culmination of that dedication and that zeal," Danish said.
The Fort Worth Transportation Authority is expected to begin running trains on the Cotton Belt tracks from southwest Fort Worth to the airport by 2013. DART plans to operate on the same line from the airport to East Plano.
Under current plans, DART won't have funding secured for its portion until the 2020s. But the agency recently began looking into ways to fast-track that financing and its portion of Cotton Belt service.
Mark C. Enoch said he backed the Orange Line's direct connection but was hesitant to support Cotton Belt connector plans that show stations in Tarrant County, not in Dallas County.
Board member Raymond Noah told him that DART member cities along the Cotton Belt - including Addison, Carrollton, Richardson and Plano - are as eager for service on that line as Irving is for the Orange Line.
"The only thing this does is put the alignment in place," Noah said.
Danish said a unanimous vote in support of current plans would be a victory.
"Let's think about the symbolic statement we'd be making," he said.
DART spokesman Morgan Lyons said the final Orange Line station would be at the airport's Terminal A but an exact location hasn't yet been worked out. He also said the exact locations of two possible Orange Line-Cotton Belt transfer stations have yet to be finalized.
"They're there in pencil, not in ink," he said.
Meanwhile, Irving officials said they they're looking forward to design and construction of the Orange Line's last leg.
"This is a time for us to celebrate 10 to 12 years worth of work," Irving City Council member Rick Stopfer said.