February 17, 2022 - TRA Austin - 

Texas Governor Greg Abbott, in his proposed state budget to the 88th session of the state legislature, recommended that lawmakers look at the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and determine if there are beneficial programs that deserve a state match for available federal programs.

In the Governor's words "I recommend the 88th Legislature review programs created by the IIJA, CHIPS Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act to determine which, if any, programs may be beneficial for Texas to pursue and provide any necessary non-federal matching dollars in the General Appropriations Act."

This session, legislators have to decide how to carve up a historic $32.7 billion budget surplus that piled up from record-breaking tax collections in the last 18 months.

Texas Rail Advocates is pleased Governor Abbott recognized that federal grants from the IIJA can be beneficial for meaningful infrastructure programs, like those for rail projects. There are a number of rail studies completed by TxDOT that have been waiting for available funding. 

"There's a basket of new and expanded federal rail programs that our lawmakers must take a look at this session that can benefit the entire state for moving people and goods," according to Texas Rail Advocates President Peter LeCody. "Appropriated Fund 0306, the Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund (RRIF), is waiting for a kickstart contribution of general funds so that TxDOT can apply for it's share of over $36 billion in federal competitive grants to be awarded over a 5 year period. This could mean safer railroad crossings, overpasses and underpasses to relieve traffic congestion, better rail connections at our ports to move goods faster, helping smaller and more rural communities with developing rail parks for business and industry and adding  conventional intercity passenger rail service to give Texans more travel choices."

In comments made before the Texas Transportation Commission last fall, LeCody asked the Commission to request the legislature place $200 million in the RRIF so that Texas could apply for competitive federal rail grants with as little as a 20% state match. 

During Texas House Appropriations Committee testimony on Wednesday, Texas Department of Transportation Executive Director Marc Williams pointed to the Texas Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund that voters passed in 2005 but has remained a bare cupboard since its inception by the legislature. "That fund was intended to provide an opportunity to capitalize a variety of rail related projects for freight and passenger rail. That is one item that would come to mind."

In Governor Abbott's budget recommendations to the legislature he noted that "Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the CHIPS and Science Act (CHIPS Act), and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). These federal laws include a multitude of programs, that provide more than $2 trillion in federal spending over the next decade. Many of these programs offer opportunities for states to drawdown federal dollars, often with required non-federal matching funds to support infrastructure projects. The Legislature should work with state agencies to review these programs and to evaluate funding opportunities, scrutinize federal requirements, and determine which programs are worthwhile to pursue. "

The Texas House Transportation Committee's Interim Report, issued in late 2022 strongly supported Governor Abbott's recommendation and stated "the Legislature should appropriate funding into the Texas Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund (RRIF) to be used as a strategic funding mechanism to assist the rail industry in seizing IIJA rail grant funds for improvements to the state’s rail infrastructure."

Abbott said “To build the Texas of tomorrow, we must continue the State’s unrelenting efforts to build infrastructure, grow the energy sector, improve job training and public education, and ensure healthcare access — all while keeping Texans safe and preserving the freedoms we enjoy today for future generations,

Photo credit: Governor's Office