December 16, 2022 - TRA Austin -
The Texas House Transportation Committee Interim Report recommends utilizing a long-dormant but still on-the-books fund to boost improvements to the state's rail system.
The Texas Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund (appropriated fund 0306) was approved by voters in a constitutional amendment back in 2005 but never activated and not funded by the state legislature.
Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan issued a series of charges to the Transportation Committee following the 2021 legislative session and one of the interim directives concerned current and future mobility needs.
The recommendation from the Transportation Committee Interim Report 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."
The federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIIJA) has some $36 billion in advanced appropriations that will find its way into rail projects around the country over a five year period. This is the first time that federal rail funding has had a 20% low-threshold state entry match requirement to access grants.
If the legislature follows the recommendation to put a kickstart appropriation in the Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund (RRIF), it would authorize the Texas Department of Transportation to "finance the relocation and improvement of privately and publicly owned passenger and freight rail facilities in order to relieve highway congestion, enhance public safety, improve air quality, and expand economic opportunity," according to the language of fund 0306. It may also be used for construction of railroad underpasses and overpasses if related to the relocation of a rail facility.
Interim charge #3 titled Transportation Planning Urgency required the Transportation Committee "study current and future transportation needs and consider improvements to ensure that Texas is adequately planning for the state's population growth forecasts. Evaluate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on transportation projects and investment decisions."
The RRIF, by law, is allowed to "receive proceeds from bonds and notes as well as dedications and appropriations made by the legislature."
There was only one other recommendation under Transportation Charge #3, which would also benefit the future of rail projects in the state. "The Legislature should convene a committee similar to the 2030 Committee of 2008 and 2010 to assess the state's transportation infrastructure and mobility needs through 2045. Similarly to the 2030 Committee, the 2045 Committee should develop an analysis of the current state of the Texas transportation system, determining the household costs of underinvesting in the system, and identifying potential revenue options to fund transportation improvements", according to thr report.
The entire Interim Report can be found here: https://house.texas.gov/