November 6, 2023 -

Editor's note: Not a single dollar of $641 million over 5 years will be destined for any passenger or freight rail project that could reduce CO2 emissions. It ALL goes to highways.

- Erin Douglas, -  The Texas Department of Transportation plans to spend about half a billion federal dollars on projects that the agency says will lessen the amount of climate-warming carbon dioxide emitted into the air. 

But environmental and public transportation advocates say the agency’s draft “Carbon Reduction Strategy” is unlikely to substantially cut carbon emissions from the transportation sector, which emits the most greenhouse gasses of any state. 

According to the TxDOT draft document, a chunk of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act money will be transferred to a highway program, and the agency says highway expansions could be eligible for the funds because they will reduce congestion, thereby reducing emissions from idling cars. 

Harrison Humphreys, a research and policy coordinator at Air Alliance Houston, an environmental advocacy group, said he sees the strategy as doing “the bare minimum” to get the federal dollars and called the document “disappointing.”

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Texas Rail Advocates submitted the following public input concerning the Texas Carbon Reduction Strategy to the Texas Department of Transportation via on November 12:

Inadequate time allowed for public input - Texas Statewide Carbon Reduction StrategyReference: Texas Statewide Carbon Reduction Strategy Draft - October 2023   (released 10-25-23)

Texas Rail Advocates is concerned about the above mentioned Texas Statewide Carbon Reduction Strategy Draft, which was only released on 10-25-23 and required public input no later than November 8, 2023.

The time frame of some 10 working days is totally inadequate for input on about $641 million in federal environmental funds that will be almost exclusively used to benefit highway projects.

If TxDOT is to seek ways to improve the environment and maximize emissions reductions, this draft document does not even come close to addressing multi-modal strategies, especially needed passenger and freight rail projects around the state.

Other than two mentions of grade-crossing and grade-separation projects that encompass a sliver of the total available federal funds, there are no freight or passenger rail projects listed. 

If the $641 million in federal funds from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to lower emissions will be spent primarily on temporarily relieving highway congestion choke-points, then spending these funds takes Texas in the wrong direction. The U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration report (FRA-RRD30-2022-0001) comparing real world intercity passenger trips by rail, air and road show that freight and passenger rail are much more efficient ways for Texas to gain benefits through use of these funds. 

TxDOT and the Texas Transportation Commission continue to turn a blind eye to the long-term benefits that could be derived from these funds by not investing them in freight rail improvements as shown in the Texas Rail Plan and to develop a vision for passenger rail services in the Texas Triangle to connect the Dallas-Fort Worth region, Austin, San Antonio and Houston. The draft does not address federal funds being made available for the Rail Corridor Identification and Development Program and we fear that Texas will lose out on the billions available, which will go to other states.

We don’t understand why TxDOT and the Transportation Commission does not ask the state legislature for a minimum 20% state match for these types of rail projects like you do for a federal-state match for highways.

You have a corridor between Austin and San Antonio that has been crying out for regional passenger rail service. Austin-San Antonio is a high emission highway corridor and deserves a multi-modal rail strategy. 

Improving freight rail and passenger rail mobility can generate enormous economic development benefits not only to our largest urban regions but also to be a shot in the arm to small and mid-size rural towns and cities that would like to attract rail freight business and industry and improve sorely needed ground transportation options for its citizens with passenger rail service. 

This draft is being rushed through without significant time for public input. 

Photo credit: Austin Monitor