Tag Archives: High-speed rail

What’s Up with Transportation Funding?

Several different funding bills have been in the news recently, and trying to keep track of them may make your head swirl (it did for me). Here’s a quick guide to each of them–with notes on progress from the House and Senate sides:

For 2012: Today, the Senate approved a $108 billion for Fiscal 2012 federal transportation. Spending caps passed over the summer have limited this funding to be only at or near existing levels. This amount does not account for inflation, so actual funding levels would drop. High speed rail funding would be explicitly cut to $100 million. The House bill is expected to have even more funding cuts.

Long Term: The last federal transportation bill expired September 30, 2009 and has been extended eight times since then. The new bill is expected to be passed by March 31, 2012, the date when the current extension expires. The duration of the bill and its funding level are hotly debated.

House Transportation Chairman Rep. John Mica’s bill would spend about $285 billion over the six years. However, Senate transportation leaders have announced they will vote on a two-year bill for federal surface transportation programs on November 9. The Senate will complete the draft of the highways section of the authorization bill by the end of this week, prior to the vote on the 9th. Amendments to eliminate funding for bike and pedestrian programs were defeated. Funding for Amtrak is also been preserved.

The Transportation Jobs Bill: Senate Democrats plan to introduce the Rebuild America Jobs Act this week. It would provide $50 billion in infrastructure spending and create a $10 billion national infrastructure bank.  Unlike the previous ARRA stimulus bill from 2009, this act focuses on infrastructure repairs that create jobs more quickly than new construction. $36 billion is specifically set for rebuilding roads and bridges, with an additional $9 billion for transit system repair. High speed rail construction would receive $4 billion and Amtrak would get $2 billion for upgrades. A competitive grant program would provide $5 billion for local projects of national significance.

Texas transit application for funding: Texas has applied for more than $93.8 million in funding under the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER III) grants. This request is for four projects. The largest project is $53 million to go toward the second phase of the North Tarrant Express project in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

The other three requests are for rail rehabilitation and improvement projects: $9.6 million to rehabilitate the South Orient Railroad line (from Sulphur Junction to Fort Stockton), $10 million to build additional track and make other rail improvements at the Port of Corpus Christi, and $21.3 million for the Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas Sunbelt Rail Rehabilitation project to upgrade the Dallas, Garland and Northeastern Railroad, Kiamichi Railroad and Texas Northeastern Railroad lines. Texas is competing for $527 million available to the nation through TIGER III.

Kari Banta, Transportation Associate

82nd Legislature: New Laws for Rail

There are three new regulations for rail: one for emergency rolling stock for freight, one for commuter rail districts, and one for high speed passenger rail safety.

HB 1750 allows the Executive Director of TxDOT to lease rolling stock and to contract with a rail operator to operate rolling stock if the executive director determines that either a natural or man-made emergency exists that threatens the health, life or property where the rail facility is located.

As noted at a report on the legislation at the Texas Transportation Commission, this is the direct result of the bumper crop season Texas farmers experienced in 2010. At the time, the lessee of the TxDOT-owned rail line was not able to provide adequate service, and TxDOT did not have explicit authority to procure an alternative operator on an emergency basis. Much of the crop was transported by truck.

HB 3030 defines commuter rail as “the transportation of passengers and baggage by rail between locations in a district.”

Only intermunicipal commuter rail districts formed before January 1, 2005 are affected by this law. This includes Houston Metro, Dallas DART, the Trinity Railway Express (TRE), CapMetro Rail, the Lone Star Rail DIstrict between Austin and San Antonio, the East Texas Corridor Council, and the Northeast Texas Rural Rail Transportation District (NETEX). It excludes the Hidalgo Commuter Rail District, the Denton County A Line, and others formed after January 1, 2005.

The law allows a transportation infrastructure zone of a district established before January 1, 2005, to consist of a contiguous or noncontiguous geographic area. The area must be in the territory of one or more local governments and must include a commuter rail facility or the site of a proposed commuter rail facility.

The tax increment fund also receives revenue from the sale of tax increment bonds and the sale of any property acquired as part of a plan adopted to use tax increment financing.Provisions for the tax increment bond financing of commuter rail districts is included as well. A local government member of a commuter rail district may issue tax increment bonds or notes, including refunding bonds, secured by revenue in the local government’s tax increment fund.

HB 3771 authorizes TxDOT to adopt safety standards for high-speed passenger rail, defined as service over 185 miles per hour, and to impose fees on the railroad companies to recover the costs of related administration.

-Kari Banta, Transportation Associate

Texas Rail Plan

Did you know we have one?

We do!

Key fact:  Shipping freight via rail produces one tenth the carbon monoxide as long haul trucking.

Kari Banta, Sierra Club’s new Transportation Associate in Texas attended Texas Department of Transportation’s public hearing on October 6 and this is what she wants you to know —

At the meeting, William Glavine, Director of the Texas Rail Division, presented a history of the Texas Rail Plan to the present. He emphasized how far Texas had come in unifying its vision and increasing its ability to compete for national funds for rail.
Most commenters noted the importance of improving existing rail infrastructure and stated that improving the existing system should take higher priority over high speed rail projects. High speed rail is achievable but will require a lot of time and money. The smaller cost and faster completion times of improving what we already have means real benefits in the short term for passenger and freight rail.
Passenger rail faces two obstacles: improving the schedule and travel times; and making better connections to other travel modes . The social and economic interconnectivity of many urban areas puts emphasis on establishing effective routes between San Antonio, Dallas and Houston (connecting Austin and other cities along the way).
There was a general acknowledgment of the importance of freight. It’s not as exciting for someone who wants real car alternatives now, but in terms of protecting the environment freight is a huge issue. Texas is first in the country in total rail miles and fifth in the country in total rail tons shipped. Shipping freight via rail produces one tenth the carbon monoxide as long haul trucking. As the Texas economy grows, it’s important to make freight rail a feasible option.

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