March 15, 2023 - TRA Austin -
Now there are two rail-centric riders up for consideration by the Texas House Appropriations Committee. The most recent rider to the budget process was filed by Representative David Spiller (R-Jacksboro). If approved and funded, Spiller's rider would create a $25 million-dollar short line rail grant program.
The text of the rider directs $25,000,000 for the FY24/25 biennium to the Department of Transportation for the purpose of creating a competitive grant program for Class II and Class III railroads as defined by the Surface Transportation Board.
This program will require 50% private match for any rail project. Eligible uses include mainline track upgrades, siding upgrades, spur upgrades, new rail infrastructure for economic development purposes, and matching funds for federal discretionary grant programs. This money is not eligible for use on high-speed passenger rail projects, commuter rail projects, intercity passenger rail projects, or class I railroad projects.
Also under consideration by the budget appropriators is a rider filed by Texas State Representative Stan Gerdes (R-Smithville). $200 million in General Revenue Funds would be directed to the Texas Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund (RRIF). This would be the first time the fund would receive a boost from the legislature since voters approved the RRIF with a constitutional amendment in 2005 for important freight and conventional passenger rail projects.
A growing number of cities, counties, economic development agencies, ports and rail districts have issued resolutions and letters of support to the Texas Transportation Commission, TxDOT and legislators in support of RRIF funding during the past 12 months.
The $200 million rider would add those funds to the Texas Department of Transportation's budget, directing the money to be transferred to the Texas Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund (Appropriated Fund 0306) for use by TxDOT for rail relocation and improvement projects and as matching funds for Federal Funds for eligible projects in accordance with the Texas Constitution and the Transportation Code, according to the rider language.
In the Gerdes rider it states that "It is the intent of the Legislature that monies in the Texas Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund No. 0306 be used, in part, to provide matching funds for any Federal Funds sources and programs that may be available to the State for financing rail relocation and improvement projects that are eligible for funding from the Texas Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund."
Under new and expanded federal rail grant programs in the Infrastructure Law passed by Congress, states could be eligible for freight and passenger rail projects with as little as a 20% share against up to an 80% federal match.
Fund 0306, as stated by the State Comptroller, describes the RRIF as being "Authorized to receive proceeds from bonds and notes as well as dedications and appropriations made by the legislature. For financing the relocation and improvement of privately and publicly owned passenger and freight rail facilities in order to relieve highway congestion, enhance public safety, improve air quality, and expand economic opportunity. May be used for construction of railroad underpasses and overpasses if related to the relocation of a rail facility."