February 15, 2022 - TRA Austin -
Executives of the Texas Department of Transportation appeared before the House Appropriations Committee today at the Capitol and laid out plans for billions in highway funding, as it is required to do. About 6% of the total budget will come from federal grants and payments and the balance from state sources, to be distributed under the Unified Transportation Program (UTP).
For other than highways, $400 million will be designated for dredging and improvement under SCRIF, the Ship Channel Revolving Improvement Fund. Another $150 million will be set aside for port capital improvements.
The Rail Division, a miniscule part of TxDOT, will receive about $20 million in distributed federal funds to be used for a handful of highway-grade crossing upgrades or improvements.
The possibility for additional funding to compete for new and expanded rail programs with up to an 80% federal grant were not mentioned by either TxDOT or asked by any of the state representatives on the Appropriations Committee.
State Representative Ed Thompson (R) District 29, Pearland, asked TxDOT Executive Director Marc Williams what can be done about incidents and subsequent improvements that can be made at railroad grade crossings. Thompson cited one railroad crossing in his district that sees about 100 school buses transiting across the tracks every school day. Williams indicated that with only $20-some million dollars available every year for crossing lights, improvements and overpasses the agency has to look at prioritizing projects.
When asked about other sources for rail crossing improvements, Williams pointed to the Texas Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund that voters passed in 2005 but has remained a bare cupboard since its inception by the legislature. "That fund was intended to provide an opportunity to capitalize a variety of rail related projects for freight and passenger rail. That is one item that would come to mind." There was no follow up question by anyone on the committee.
Regarding public transit, the TxDOT budget will increase funding for rural public transportation by $7.5 million over the present funding level.
State Representative Steve Toth (R) DIstrict 15, Spring, who never misses a chance to bash high-speed rail or mis-represent facts about rail, asked the TxDOT Executive Director about the high speed rail project between Dallas and Houston. Texas Central, the private company that wants to build the high-speed line has been silent since June 24, 2022 after the Texas Supreme Court affirmed Texas Central's ability to acquire land by using the power of eminent domain.
Toth again claimed that taxpayers would be on the hook if the private company would go bankrupt. "We're not going to pick up the expense and we can't afford to" according to Toth. Williams indicated that the Texas has no commitment to the rail project.
When Toth asked about an update on high-speed rail, Williams said TxDOT has not had any communications with Texas Central in awhile and said "as far as I know there is no momentum on it. They have not advanced that project."