July 26, 2022 - TRA Newswire -

From the West Texas city of San Angelo to East Texas Hopkins County, local and regional entities have started petitioning the Texas Department of Transportation, the Texas Transportation Commission and House and Senate Transportation lawmakers to put some coin into a Texas rail fund account. 

Now that the Infrastructure bill passed by Congress contains new and expanded programs that require a state match to obtain rail funding, Chambers of Commerce, Economic Development Agencies and even County Commissioners want to see Texas participate in shared federal rail programs through the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) that are worth billions of dollars. 

Some $36 billion will be parceled out over five years in numerous federal rail grants that could benefit both freight and passenger rail movement in Texas. The state missed out a share of over $19 billion in federal rail grants over the last decade because no funds were allocated by the legislature. Those rail grants went to various other states that benefited from the national programs.

In the Northeast Texas city of Sulphur Springs, County Commissioners passed a resolution on July 22nd petitioning the state legislature, during the 2023 session, to" address Texas' transportation infrastructure needs with a 'Fair-Share-For-Rail' kickstart appropriation to the Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund." The Texas Department of Transportation would need to determine what a sufficient amount would be needed in the fund to enable the state to compete for matching funds in federal rail grant programs. The Rail Relo Fund was approved by Texas voters in 2006 but has remained unfunded to this day. A number of projects in the Texas Rail Plan could be eligible for a federal-state partnership grant. 

The Hopkins County resolution, which was brought to the Commissioners Court by County Judge Robert Newsom, mentioned that the FRA programs could help the struggling NETEX Rail District, which covers six counties in Northeast Texas, with track rehabilitation, repair and replacement of aging bridges and could help fuel an industrial rail park to promote economic growth in rural areas. A copy of the resolution was sent to TxDOT Executive Director Marc Williams and the chairs of the Texas House and Senate Transportation Committee. 

Michael Looney, Vice-President of Economic Development for the San Angelo Chamber of Commerce, wrote to Texas Transportation Chairman J. Bruce Bugg, Jr. and was "concerned how Texas is missing federal funding opportunities for rail improvements and projects." According to Looney, "The continued development of the South Orient line, international rail bridge at Presidio and the San Angelo Rail Port will greatly benefit the economy and industrial manufacturing ecosystem in San Angelo and the greater Concho Valley."  

Texas Rail Advocates supports the Fair-Share-For-Rail Campaign and urges interested cities, counties, chambers of commerce, business and industry and economic development agencies to ask for a packet that is available to pass a resolution or letter of support. You can obtain the information by emailing Texas Rail Advocates President Peter LeCody at peter@texasrailadvocates.org.

The Texas legislature will have unprecedented funds to allocate next year. An extra $27 billion will be distributed from the Texas Rainy Day Fund. Both Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar has recommended funding infrastructure and House Speaker Dade Phelan has been quoted that the coming session should focus on infrastructure.