Updated September 3, 2019 - TRA Austin Newswire / ProgressiveRailroading.com -
The Texas Transportation Commission approved TxDOT’s 10-year transportation plan that includes more than $77 billion dedicated to improving safety, addressing congestion and connectivity, and preserving roadways for Texas drivers. Buried in the details was a very small slice of the pie for rail projects, most of which are unfunded.
The 10-year plan, called the 2020 Unified Transportation Program (UTP), contains more than $4 billion for safety improvements, including an extra $600 million for the next two years to help accelerate even more safety measures in an effort to reduce crashes and eliminate fatalities from our roadways by 2050. Many of these improvements will widen roads; improve median barriers and bridges; upgrade guardrails; provide intersection improvements, such as upgraded traffic signals and signage; and make safety improvements for bicyclists and pedestrians.
The 10 year plan does include some $60 million to rehabilitate hundreds of miles of the South Orient Railroad line (SORR). The 205 mile-plus rehab on the state-owned railroad will use a combination of federal, state and local funds and includes contributions from the rail line leased-operator, Texas Pacifico Transportation Ltd. The SORR operates from San Angelo Junction west of Brownwood through San Angelo and Alpine and terminates at Presidio on the Rio Grande River in far Southwest Texas. It interchanges with BNSF Railway at San Angelo Junction and Union Pacific at Alpine.
Through 2017, some 167 miles of the South Orient were brought up to a state of good repair. According to TxDOT, Texas Pacifico is to upgrade the entire line to continuously-welded rail.
Reconstruction of the Presidio International Rail Bridge, which is slated to be completed this year, would reopen one of eight rail gateways between the U.S. and Mexico. The bridge was damaged by fires in 2008 and 2009 and cross-border service was suspended. Ground breaking work started in October 2018. TxDOT received a $7 million federal FASTLANE grant to rehab about 72 miles of track and additional bridges in Presidio County to support reconstruction of the Presidio Ojinaga international rail bridge.
The Transportation Commission's 10-year plan lists a number of unfunded rail projects:
Construction of a second rail life bridge across the Neches River at Beaumont. According to TxDOT it's the primary east-west rail corridor through the City of Beaumont and includes the only river crossing in the region. The Neches River rail bridge is a single track vertical lift span bridge owned and operated by KCS. The bridge averages 7-8 lifts per week which result in train delays while ships navigate the river below. An additional $85.5 million in rehab programs for the South Orient line Rehab of the Northeast Texas Rural Rail Transportation District. NETEX, formed in 1995, is a Rural Rail District controlling 65.6 miles of operational railroad and a total railroad corridor of 88.8 miles in Northeast Texas between the Titus-Franklin County line and Wylie. This line was originally the "C-branch" mainline of the St. Louis Southwestern Railway. Operator of the line is the Blacklands Railroad. Closing five crossings and constructing five additional grade-separated crossings in the Houston area.
All of those unfunded freight rail projects were named as part of 10 Critical Freight Rail Projects by Texas Rail Advocates in 2014 and were not addressed by the Texas Legislature in 2015, 2017 or 2019.
More than $600 million committed to fund highway improvements in the state’s bustling Permian Basin energy sector is included in the plan to add to other funding in the energy sector. Projects focus on safety, connectivity, congestion relief, as well improving mobility at high-volume intersections. Funding also will pay for pavement strengthening for roadways with high truck volumes and weights.
“TxDOT is committed to reducing congestion and improving mobility and safety in Texas as evidenced by the agency’s largest 10-year plan to date,” said J. Bruce Bugg, Jr. Commission Chairman. “Additionally, we keep making progress in addressing congestion in our busiest parts of the state through our Texas Clear Lanes initiative, which addresses congestion in top chokepoints in our largest metro areas.”
Many of the projects in this plan are roadway segments identified on Texas’ 100 Most Congested Roadways list. The projects will be delivered with funding from legislative and voter-approved initiatives that allocate portions of oil and gas taxes, sales taxes and other money to the state highway fund.
Projects are selected based on how effective the projects are in addressing areas such as pavement condition, safety, capacity and rural connectivity. Projects are chosen collaboratively by TxDOT and local transportation leaders with ultimate approval by the Texas Transportation Commission with input from the public. The UTP authorizes highway projects for planning activities, development and construction. In addition to highway projects, the UTP address public transportation, maritime, aviation and rail.