December 20, 2021 - TRA Newswire -
If you want to see Texas gets it's fair share in billions of Infrastructure Act dollars for rail projects, here are a couple of key dates to remember:
May 14, 2022 - that's when all the twists and turns of the new Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) that pertain to rail programs are announced by the Secretary of Transportation. SecTrans has six months from the enactment of IIJA to write how states and other entities can participate in programs, many of which require a buy-in, reportedly at a 20% state/local to 80% federal share. After May 14, 2022, applications can then be submitted for review by the agency.
May 14, 2023 - Over the course of the 12 months leading up to this date you will see a major flurry of project applications from states and other entities that would like to get their share of rail funding and there are sure to be plenty of announcements.
How will Texas be impacted, specifically from the $1.2 trillion IIJA and what is needed for the state to get it's Fair-Share-For-Rail?
Right now, Texas does not have a way to participate in any cost-sharing program for federal rail projects. Nada.
What we do have is a vehicle. A dormant account voters approved in 2009, the Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund (Appropriated Fund 0306) could be used to leverage a 20% state share against 80% federal rail program funding, but the legislature has not even approved a kickstart appropriation to date. "Without some skin in the game, like a kickstart appropriation, we are going to pass up on significant money that will go to many other states", according to Texas Rail Advocates President Peter LeCody. "We still have time between the start of the 2023 state legislative session in January and the May 14, 2023 deadline to file for competitive grants if our lawmakers will fund the RRIF to any degree possible."
Here are three takeaways for rail in the IIJA , thanks to our friends at GoRail:
Intercity passenger rail will get more money than ever before. The IIJA delivers big for passenger rail, providing $66 billion to Amtrak to improve and expand service. This is the largest investment ever for the nation’s intercity passenger railroad and it will help Amtrak tackle projects along the Northeast Corridor, for example the Hudson Tunnel Project, as well as its 15-year vision for extending service to 160 additional communities. Amtrak has already stated in their 2035 Vision they would like to see expanded passenger rail corridor service in Texas from DFW-Austin-San Antonio, San Antonio-Houston and Houston-Dallas via College Station. Upfront federal costs would gradually be reduced as ridership and revenue increase over a 5 year period.
A new dedicated grant program will alleviate grade crossing challenges. The IIJA provides $600 million per year for eliminating or separating areas where railroads and motorists interact. The new program, spearheaded by Sens. Cantwell and Blunt, is on top of expanded funding ($245 million) for the Section 130 program to enhance safety at crossings. Freight railroads have long advocated for such funding, which will be available to states, cities and tribes. Right now Texas only gets about $25 million a year from the feds on Section 130, and that barely covers a handful of crossing improvements.
Rail and multimodal projects get a major boost. Several existing programs that provide discretionary grants for rail and multimodal projects will get more money than ever before—an average of $5.5 billion annually together. This includes:
CRISI: Established in 2017 by the FAST Act, the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) grant program is for projects that improve the safety, efficiency, and reliability of freight and intercity passenger service. It’s the only federal funding that short line railroads are eligible to apply for directly and it’s particularly helpful for them in tackling track rehabilitation, repairing or replacing aging bridges, improving grade crossings, or eliminating bottlenecks. The IIJA allocates $1 billion annually for the program, up from $360 million in FY21.
INFRA: The Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) program, which will receive $1.64 billion for FY22-24 under the IIJA, is designed to fund highway and rail projects of national significance that support jobs and local economies. This year for the first time ever, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced project proposals would also be evaluated by how they addressed climate change, environmental justice and racial equity.
RAISE: Formerly known as TIGER or BUILD, the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program is one of the few DOT discretionary programs for which regional and local governments can directly compete for multimodal transportation funding. It will receive $1.5 billion annually from the IIJA, funding projects judged by their impact on safety, sustainability, quality of life, economic competitiveness, state of good repair, innovation, and partnership.
For Texas to receive the full benefit of IIJA 80/20 Rail Programs, the state must have at least a kickstart appropriation while determining how to establish a reliable funding source for the future.