Funding is only for Railway-Crossing funding
No additional "ask" to participate in competitive federal rail grants with a state match, even with billions to become available from the state Rainy Day Fund -
July 20, 2022 - TRA Austin -
Every two years about this time the Texas Department of Transportation presents its Legislative Appropriation Request to the Texas Transportation Commission. At the July 12 monthly meeting in Austin, commissioners were given a look at what TxDOT executives feel is appropriate spending going into the next two-year budget cycle.
While a line item showing $20,369,906 for FY 2022-23 and $21,420,106 for FY 2024-2025, respectively, for an item titled "Enhance Rail Transportation" was flashed on the screen, it seems that those funds will only go toward a railroad-highway grade crossing program called Section 130. These are not even state funds but federal dollars given to states to improve safety at rail crossings. If TxDOT did ask for a state match in a budget request it would mean that a significantly higher number of at-grade highway crossings could be improved for safety.
During the budget presentation there was no indication that TxDOT would try to seek any additional funding from state lawmakers for a host of other freight and passenger programs from the Infrastructure bill passed last fall by Congress. This as State Comptroller Glenn Hegar predicts the Economic Stabilization Fund, the state's Rainy Day Fund as it is usually called, will be awash with billions in excess dollars that can be doled out by lawmakers.
"The fact that we have a strong economy, that we will have over $26 billion in surplus funds to be distributed and that the Speaker of the House Dade Phelan said this coming session will be an infrastructure session makes me wonder why TxDOT didn't step up and make an 'ask' for rail project funding," according to Texas Rail Advocates President Peter LeCody. "There are many projects waiting for funding in the state Rail Plan to benefit both goods and people movement and unless we have state funding we will again miss out on competitive federal grant programs that will go to other states. In the last decade Texas missed out on its share of over $19 billion in competing for federal grants because we did not have any skin in the game."
The federal infrastructure bill contains new and expanded programs for states to participate in including the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements program (CRISI), projects to make our ports more rail friendly, National Infrastructure Project Assistance (Megaprojects or MEGA) for freight rail improvements, and the Grade Crossing Elimination Program to separate vehicles from train traffic.
Competitive Intercity Passenger Rail programs that TxDOT could participate in include a Corridor Identification and Development Program for eligible corridors under 750 miles in length, a Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail to improve existing services and a Restoration and Enhancement Grant Program to restore passenger rail with federal funding available to support a route from three to six years.
More information on how Texas can benefit from participating in federal grant programs and a solution called the Texas Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund can be found here: https://texasrailadvocates.org/issues/fair-share-for-rail