AUgust 16, 2022 - TRA Newswire -

In a letter to Texas Department of Transportation Executive Director Marc Williams, Texas Rail Advocates is asking the agency to apply for a share of excess revenue that the state legislature will distribute during the 2023 session, and direct it specifically to rail projects.

The amount: $200 million dollars. To put that in perspective, it would work out to less than 2% of the total revenue of $13 billion dollars that TxDOT received in fiscal year 2021.

But where would the money come from? The state is awash with record high tax collections, according to State Comptroller Glenn Hegar, to the tune of $27 billion dollars. State legislators will have to figure out where excess funds go, but Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan has already indicated that the 2023 session will include "confronting our state's growing infrastructure demands." 

If TXDOT and the Texas Transportation Commission advance this Legislative Appropriation Request (LAR) it would be the largest proposal ever placed before lawmakers for freight and passenger rail projects. If approved by lawmakers, it would allow TxDOT to apply for competitive federal rail grants with as little as a 20 to 30 percent state match. Coupled with federal grants, the end result could result in benefits that improve the flow of goods and passengers through Texas to the tune of some $800 million dollars.

The federal funds will come from the Federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). It opens up a wealth of improvements that can be accomplished for rail programs across the country and all states will be vying for some $36 billion dollars of the IIJA over a five year period.

"Texas must not miss out on the once-in-a-generation opportunity to make our rail system more dynamic, more fluid, more user-friendly and safer for moving people and goods," according to Texas Rail Advocates President Peter LeCody. "If TxDOT is to be a true multi-modal transportation agency then this is the time to think bold, think big and go after those competitive federal rail grants. There are numerous projects in the TxDOT Texas Rail Plan that will continue to gather dust on the shelf if we don't act this coming session."

A letter writing and resolution campaign, Fair-Share-For-Rail, is now underway to urge elected and appointed state officials to act on state funding for rail. This includes letters of support from the San Angelo Chamber of Commerce in West Texas to a resolution issued by the Hopkins County Commissioners Court in East Texas. 

If TxDOT applies for a legislative request and if the legislature nods their approval, the agency would be eligible to submit grants in rail-related competitive funding streams for these new and expanded programs:

  • Grade Crossing Elimination Program
  • Railway-Highway Crossing Improvements (Section 130)
  • Safe Streets and Roads for All (SS4A)
  • Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI)
  • Port Infrastructure Development for Rail
  • National Infrastructure Project Assistance (MEGA)
  • Rural Surface Transportation Grants
  • Corridor Identification and Development Program
  • Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail
  • Restoration and Enhancement Grant Programs

A state appropriation would finally kickstart the Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund (Appropriated Fund 0306) that voters approved in a constitutional amendment in 2005. It would provide authority for TxDOT to initiate and administer rail programs.