August 30, 2022 – TRA Austin –
The Texas Transportation Commission approved a record $85 billion highway construction plan Tuesday during their August meeting but left funding for freight and passenger rail projects out in the cold, again.
It was a record day for highway construction awards as well, with $1.5 billion in monthly letting which is a record day for the Texas
Department of Transportation.
The 2024-2025 Appropriation Request for the upcoming 86th legislative session was also approved by Transportation Commission Chairman Bruce Bugg, Commissioner Robert Vaughn and Commissioner Alvin New. Commissioner Laura Ryan was out ill.
Every year the Texas Department of Transportation assembles a Unified Transportation Program that looks ahead to future needs and every two years prepares a Legislative Appropriations Request and presents it to the transportation commission.
While TxDOT had a $21.4 million dollar line item titled “Enhance Rail Transportation” it is understood that those funds are only a federal transfer to state funds for Section 130, highway grade-crossing improvements. TxDOT’s Legislative Appropriation Request (LAR) did not present any additional state or federal proposed projects for lawmakers to consider.
Texas Rail Advocates President Peter LeCody, speaking before the Transportation Commission at today's meeting, reminded Commissioners that there are hundreds of millions of dollars in freight and passenger rail projects shown in the TxDOT State Rail Plan that will remain unfunded unless the agency asks for an additional appropriation from state legislators.
“TxDOT, if it wanted to, could put in an ‘exceptional item’ request that the legislature could consider,” said LeCody. Exceptional items are projects that don’t currently have a funding stream available but lawmakers could allocate general revenue for those efforts. The State Comptroller had previously estimated that there would be a windfall surplus of some $27 billion this coming session that lawmakers will have to parcel out to various state agencies.
‘Unless the legislature acts to give the TxDOT a one-time appropriation or a steady funding stream, the Rail Division will not be able to take advantage of competitive federal-state matching rail grants from last year’s Infrastructure law that was passed by Congress,” according to LeCody.
The federal bill allocated $36 billion for rail projects nationwide that will most likely go to other states if the Texas legislature does not act in place of TxDOT and the Transportation Commission.
At present only non-dedicated state highway funds, monies from the Texas Mobility Fund and legislative grants from general revenue can be used for freight and passenger rail efforts. That makes up a tiny sliver of TxDOT’s massive yearly budget. TxDOT has been hesitant in the past to use these funding streams for rail projects.
Texas Rail Advocates has been able to document that in the last decade the state missed out on a share of $19 billion in federal rail funds because of a lack of a state match for competitive grants.
Photo credit: Tom Barrett