August 21, 2019 - TRA Newswire EXCLUSIVE-

Twenty (20) Texas State Representatives have petitioned the Chairman of the House Transportation Committee and the Speaker of the House to open hearings on what it will take to advance a passenger rail corridor from the Greater Austin area to the Great San Antonio area, a region that already suffers great highway traffic pains along the I-35 corridor.

House Transportation Chair Terry Canales (D)-Edinburg received a bi-partisan letter Friday from twenty Representatives that cover districts from north of Austin to south of San Antonio. The letter urges Canales to "consider and study the potential for intercity passenger rail, with initial focus on the greater Austin-San Antonio corridor, during this legislative interim."

"This is an amazing show of bi-partisan support from members of the Texas House that realize we can't move people and goods in the I-35 corridor by only laying down more concrete and asphalt," according to Texas Rail Advocates President Peter LeCody. "Leaders realize there must be multi-modal answers in the future so we don't have a traffic meltdown."

If an Interim Charge is advanced by the Transportation Chair and granted by the Speaker of the House, hearings would be held in advance of the 2021 legislative session. Transportation Chairman Canales also received a stakeholder letter from Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra and from Texas Rail Advocates (TRA) in support of an Interim Charge, which is the forum in which hearings would be held and testimony received late this year and into 2020.

The request includes "a review of opportunities to utilize existing rail along the corridor, identify potential funding sources, as well as necessary state contracting and infrastructure improvements."

Austin and San Antonio have continued to rank as two of the fastest-growing cities in the nation and projections indicate that Williamson, Hays and Comal counties that are part of the corridor are expected to gain over 2 million additional residents by 2050. The Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) has ranked six road segments of I-35 between Austin and San Antonio among the state's most congested. The price of congestion to motorists, last year alone, was tagged at $300 million, according to TTI.

The twenty (20) State Representatives that signed on the Interim Charge for the Austin-San Antonio corridor:

Rep. Steve Allison (House District 121); Diego Bernal (123); John Bucy (136); Sheryl Cole (46); Philip Cortez (117); John Cryier (17); Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (120); Vikki Goodwin (47); Roland Gutierrez (119); Gina Hinojosa (49); Donna Howard (48); Celia Israel (50); John Kuempel (44); Ray Lopez (125); Trey Martinez Fischer (116); Ina Minjarez (124); Leo Pacheco (118); Eddie Rodriguez (51); James Talarico (52) and Erin Zwiener (45).

In addition to the Austin-San Antonio rail corridor, Texas Rail Advocates also asked Chairman Canales to consider adding several other studies that had started over the past ten years but never moved forward by the Texas Department of Transportation. They include:

The Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study - the service level report was issued in late 2017 and has not advanced further
An initial study by the I-20 Corridor Council on rail service from DFW to East Texas with multi-state memorandum of understandings in place for Louisiana and eastward has stalled
A 2011 TxDOT initial study on rail service between Houston and Austin that has not advanced

"TxDOT does not have a very good record of being bold in advancing freight rail initiatives and from the passenger rail studies we have petitioned Chairman Canales on, their record on bringing train service to Texas is abysmal," said LeCody. "Federal grants started the process for all three of the existing passenger rail studies and all three are now just gathering dust on TxDOT shelves. It's time for the legislature to help TxDOT get Texas moving."

In June the Federal Railroad Administration distributed $326 million under the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) Program and the Special Transportation Circumstances Program, for a wide variety of state and local railroad infrastructure projects. The grants will fund 45 projects in 29 states. TxDOT did not participate.