July 9, 2016 - TRA Newswire

The Rail Division of the Texas Department of Transportation will hold three public meetings in August to inform the public of their planning-level study for passenger rail along the I-35 corridor.

The long awaited meetings will be held in Laredo, Austin and Arlington. The purpose of the meeting is to present the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study (TOPRS) and to receive public comment. The study started in March 2013 and was expected to be completed last year.

The Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study is a planning-level study to determine the feasibility of developing passenger rail service in an 850-mile corridor running from Oklahoma City, Okla, to South Texas. The study looked at a range of options, from Amtrak-style heavy rail to true high-speed rail service.

The study area was broken down into three segments: a northern segment from Oklahoma City to Dallas/Fort Worth; a central segment running from Dallas/Fort Worth to San Antonio; and a southern section from San Antonio to South Texas. The study determined the environmental impacts, identified proposed service types and developed service development plans for each of the three segments. As part of this study, conceptual alignments were developed to determine construction, operation and maintenance costs and revenue estimates for each segment.

On August 9 an open house at the TxDOT Laredo District Office begins at 5:30 with a presentation of the corridor study at 6pm. The Laredo office is located at 1817 Bob Bullock Loop, Laredo Texas 78042.

Wednesday August 10 a similar open house will be held at the TxDOT Austin District Office - Building 7 District Hearing Room (Map) at 7901 N. I-35 in Austin, 78753. Open house is at 5:30pm with a presentation scheduled for 6pm.

The third and final presentation is Thursday August 11 at the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) - Transportation Council Room (Map), 616 Six Flags Drive in Arlington, 76011. Open house is at 5:30pm and a presentation starts at 6:00pm.

The entire Draft Environmental Impact Statement can be found on the Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study (TOPRS) project page.

If you want the most frequently asked questions about the corridor project they can be found here.

Verbal and written comments from the public regarding this study are requested and may be presented for a period of 45 calendar days following the hearing. Written comments may be submitted either in person or by mail to:

TxDOT Rail Division
Mr. Mark Werner
125 E. 11th St.
Austin, TX 78704

Comments must be received on or before Monday, August 29, 2016, in order to become part of the official hearing record.

According to the Federal Railroad Administration site the 850-mile TOPRS Corridor extends from Oklahoma City in the north through Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, and San Antonio to destinations in south Texas including Laredo, Corpus Christi, and Brownsville. Existing passenger rail service includes intercity service on the Heartland Flyer (Oklahoma City to Fort Worth), Texas Eagle (Fort Worth to San Antonio), and Sunset Limited (Los Angeles to New Orleans via San Antonio) operated by Amtrak, and regional/commuter rail service on the Trinity Railway Express (Dallas to Fort Worth) and Capital MetroRail (Austin) operated by Texas operators. Intercity passenger rail between Oklahoma City and San Antonio provides service to cities and communities generally along the Interstate 35 (I–35) corridor. The purpose of Study is to evaluate alternatives to provide higher speed passenger rail service to meet future intercity travel demand and to improve rail facilities, reduce journey times, and improve connections with regional public transit services. These improvements are needed because of the current and forecast population and business growth within the study area that has resulted in growing congestion on highways and rail services along the Interstate 35 (I–35) corridor.

The I–35 corridor, running from Duluth, Minnesota, to Laredo, Texas, is a congressionally identified corridor of national significance and is one of the fastest growing regions in the U.S., running through six of the largest urban areas and nine of the 50 largest cities in the U.S. International truck traffic demand, intercity truck traffic demand, and passenger travel demand compete for highway capacity, creating substantial congestion inside the urban areas through which the highway runs. Projections for the Dallas/Fort Worth to San Antonio portion of the corridor show average speeds along I–35 would drop from 55 to 15 miles per hour by 2035.

Transportation plans for Texas and Oklahoma have identified substantial population growth and population aging within the Study corridor. Texas population is expected to grow by 39% between 2010 to 2035. The population of the Texas Triangle (a region of Texas bounded by Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio) has been growing rapidly over the last several decades, with growth rates in some areas as high as 27%. Texas’ population has grown  making it the second most populous state in the U.S. with most of the state’s population centered in the eastern half of the state, along and east of the I–35 corridor. Oklahoma City is expected to see a population increase of 25% from 2000 to 2035, with intensified population densities in the metropolitan area.

Populations within the Study area are also aging, with the percentage of people who are 65 years old or older expected to grow from about 13% to nearly 20% by 2030 in Oklahoma and from 10% to over 17% in Texas, with the aging population expected to rely more heavily on public transportation such as intercity rail. Long range transportation plans in Texas and Oklahoma have identified the need to improve passenger rail services to meet the future demand brought on by these changes in population.