April 25, 2023 - TRA Austin -
Is it too late for any funding for rail this session? The state budget has now been sent to a conference committee composed of five Representatives and five Senators.
The Gang of 10 will now go into a series of closed-door meetings to hammer out a compromise between the two chambers.
They are Senators Joan Huffman, Robert Nichols, Lois Kolkhorst, Brandon Creighton and Charles Schwertner. Their House partners are Greg Bonnen, Mary Gonzalez, Jacey Jetton, Gary VanDeaver and Armando Walle.
Two attempts at specific riders for rail funding through Article VII, Transportation, failed to get the attention of budget decision makers. One was for $200 million to be directed to the Texas Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund which voters approved over a decade ago and has stated unfunded. The other rider was for $25 million to be directed to improving Texas short line railroads and the customers they serve.
"With $36 billion in federal infrastructure funds that will be distributed to states interested in participating in competitive rail grant programs, it would be a shame for Texas to not participate in this once-in-a-generation effort," according to Texas Rail Advocates President Peter LeCody. "We've now gone back to the budget writers and asked, in a rider, for $75 million of the state budget surplus to be dedicated to rail programs. There's billions of federal dollars and we'll lose out on our Fair-Share-For-Rail if we don't participate."
The proposed rider for $75 million has caught the attention of at least one member of the budget conferees and will be looked at in conference.
One bill TRA is tracking is Representative Ed Thompson's Rail Safety Bill 88(R) HB 4015. It relates to the disposition of certain fees collected for the rail safety program. Thompson's bill passed in the House and has been received by the Senate. BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS: SECTION 1. Section 111.101(e), Transportation Code, is amended to read as follows: (e) A fee collected under this section shall be deposited to the credit of the state highway fund and may be used only for the rail safety program. Previously TxDOT was under no obligation to use fees collected for rail safety.