April 20, 2020 - TRA Newswire -

The $311 million dollar question. Will the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) be applying for any rail project grants under the latest Federal Railroad Administration's notice of funding opportunity for capital projects? The most current round of the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) program has benefited many states in previous funding grants. TxDOT has missed out on numerous opportunities in the past and a response from TxDOT was not available at the time this story was posted.

The federal CRISI grants, from the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020,  can be used for freight and passenger rail projects that improve safety, efficiency and reliability.

States can apply for funding in the competitive grant process  for rail congestion relief and grade crossings; to upgrade short line or regional infrastructure; relocate rail lines; improve intercity passenger-rail capital assets; and deploy rail safety technology.

The federal pot includes $45 million for projects that include acquisition of right of way, track or track structure to support new intercity passenger-rail service routes.  Seed money of this sort could have benefited what a group of 20 bi-partisan Texas State Representatives asked for from the Speaker of the House in the interim session to support a badly needed passenger rail corridor between Austin and San Antonio as a traffic reliever. Speaker Dennis Bonnen turned down the request.

A minimum of 25 percent of the funds are set aside for rural community projects. In a press released from the FRA, Administrator Ron Batory said "we're committed to addressing the unmet transportation needs of rural areas, which face unique challenges in safety, infrastructure condition and passenger and freight usage."

Preference will be given to projects in which the proposed federal share of total costs does not exceed 50 percent, FRA officials said. The Texas legislature has had a poor record of supporting rail projects, either freight or passenger rail to take advantage of billions of available federal dollars in previous FRA rail grants.

Applications are due June 19. They must be submitted through grants.gov.