Saturday, August 29, 2009

Texas Transportation Commission authorizes funding for Amtrak Heartland Flyer route

From Texas Transportation Commission Minutes, August 27, 2009
Cooke, Denton, and Tarrant Counties – Authorize an agreement with the National Railroad Passenger Corporation relating to the provision of passenger rail service on the Amtrak Heartland Flyer route and the department’s financial support for the operation of the service (MO) The Heartland Flyer provides daily passenger rail service over the BNSF Railway line between Fort Worth and Oklahoma City. The route has been in service since 1999. Operating losses are funded by the states of Oklahoma and Texas. This minute order authorizes the department to enter into an agreement with Amtrak for continued operations through September 2010 and fund the Texas share of operating losses up to $1.95 million. Without state subsidies Amtrak could discontinue passenger rail service on the route.

Texas Requests About $1.8 Billion for High Speed Passenger Rail

By TxDOT - August 29, 2009

AUSTIN - Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) officials have submitted nine applications to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) under tracks one, three and four of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Acts (ARRA) High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) program. Applications for track two funding are due October 2.

"An integrated, multimodal transportation system is key to efficiently moving people and goods throughout the state," said Phillip Russell, TxDOT assistant executive director for innovative project development. "This isn't something that can be achieved overnight, but I believe that these applications set us on a course that will Keep Texas Moving."

In all, $8 billion in ARRA funds, in addition to a little over $90 million in FY 2008 and 2009 federal appropriations are available through this program. Last month, TxDOT submitted pre-applications for seventeen projects. Applications will be reviewed by the FRA with announcements expected sometime this fall.

The Texas Department of Transportation
The Texas Department of Transportation is responsible for maintaining nearly 80,000 miles of road and for supporting aviation, rail and public transportation across the state. TxDOT and its 15,000 employees strive to empower local leaders to solve local transportation problems, and to use new financial tools, including tolling and public- private partnerships, to reduce congestion and pave the way for future economic growth while enhancingsafety, improving air quality and preserving the value of the state's transportation assets.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Eddie Bernice Johnson and Chet Edwards seek billions for rails and roads

By Associated Press - Sunday, June 14, 2009

DALLAS -- Some North Texas lawmakers are lining up huge transportation money requests as a congressional committee readies a highway bill.

The Dallas Morning News reported Saturday that U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, the highest-ranking Texan on the House Transportation Committee, was asking for nearly $2.5 billion for 25 projects. Eighty percent of the Dallas Democrat's request would be for a dozen transit and rail projects. The remainder is for road and highway improvements.

Of some $660 million sought by Waco Democrat Chet Edwards, nearly two-thirds is for transportation or rail projects. One of Edwards' requests is money for a portion of a high-speed rail line, known as the Texas T-Bone, to connect Waco with Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

Arlington Republican Joe Barton is an exception. Of his nearly $116 million in project requests, only $3 million is for public transportation. Barton's request includes $42 million for improvements to Interstate 35E.

Johnson's largest request -- $593 million -- is for engineering and construction of the Cotton Belt Corridor commuter line, an east-west rail project involving Dallas Area Rapid Transit and the Fort Worth Transportation Authority. Another DART project, costing $483 million, would extend rail to D/FW airport.

The transportation bill undergoes committee scrutiny this month.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

North Texas cities must wait for rail

By GORDON DICKSON - Fort Worth Star Telegram - June 1, 2009
Cities hoping for help from the state in paying for commuter rail service must now reassess plans after Texas lawmakers killed a proposed law that would have allowed local-option elections to raise taxes and fees for transit.

The Fort Worth Transportation Authority, also known as the T, has a service area that only includes about half of Tarrant County’s 1.8 million residents. Cities such as Arlington, North Richland Hills and Burleson must now find other ways to connect to the agency’s rail network.

In Arlington, elected leaders must now decide whether to ask city voters for permission to raise sales taxes for transit. Arlington has a quarter-cent available, but transit elections in the city have failed three times since 1980.

"Everything is back on the table. We’ll look at all the options and do the best we can do," said Arlington Councilwoman Kathryn Wilemon. "A decision will have to be made by the Arlington council."

Barring a sales tax increase for transit in Arlington, Wilemon said, "it just leaves Arlington out of the rail picture, pretty much. There’s no funding for that right now."

A quarter-cent would provide enough funding to build a Trinity Railway Express station near Farm to Market 157 in far north Arlington, and extend express bus service from that station to the entertainment district, said T President Dick Ruddell.

Projects continue

Other cities near Fort Worth are in much the same situation.

In Northeast Tarrant County, cities such as North Richland Hills and Haltom City may have to wait many years before building train stations on the proposed southwest to northeast commuter rail line that will cut through their city and is scheduled to have passenger service by 2013. Those cities don’t have any room under the state’s 8.25 percent sales tax limit, and were hoping for options such as a local gas tax or vehicle registration fee to generate revenue.

But several commuter rail projects already in the planning or construction phases will press on, and that’s good news for cities such as Fort Worth and Grapevine, which are combining forces to develop the rail line from southwest Fort Worth to the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport north entrance.

Grapevine voters already agreed to raise their sales tax by .375 cents to pay for commuter rail to their city.

Tough questions

As for the cities that can’t afford to join, the T will continue to keep their proposed stations in the master plan, Ruddell said. "It doesn’t cost anything to leave them in the plan."

The failure in Austin also won’t hurt the efforts of the Denton County Transportation Authority to get its A-train open from Denton to Carrollton by December 2010. The project is already funded, and rail cars have been ordered.

Private investment on the Cotton Belt portion of the southwest to northeast line could improve the financial picture — and Dallas Area Rapid Transit is actively seeking private partners. However, private funding likely would benefit cities such as Addison and Carrollton on the more densely populated North Dallas segment, Ruddell said.

County officials may now look at their options. In Tarrant County, officials in 2006 passed a $433 million bond package for roads.

"These are really tough questions, and we don’t have the answers for now," said Amanda Wilson, a council of governments spokeswoman. "If you’re not a member of the T, and not planning on it, I can imagine that rail is not in your future for the next two years."

Read more in the Fort Worth Star Telegram

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Railroads seek stimulus funds to ease congestionn: Tower 55 in Fort Worth included

By Gordon Dickson - Fort Worth Star-Telegram - Friday, May 15, 2009
FORT WORTH, Texas — Two of the nation's largest railroads are seeking $70 million in federal stimulus money to lay tracks at the notoriously congested Tower 55 rail intersection near downtown Fort Worth.

Construction of a third north-south rail line at Tower 55 would reduce diesel emissions, speed traffic flow on area roads and improve safety at railroad crossings.

Officials from Fort Worth-based BNSF and Union Pacific, based in Omaha, Neb., say that although the new track would remain private property, the project enjoys wide support from public officials.

The request for funding will likely be made within weeks by the Texas Department of Transportation or another public agency on behalf of the railroads. The project will compete with other nationally strategic rail, port and road projects for $1.5 billion in discretionary funding to be disbursed by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

"We won’t have trains sitting and people sitting and waiting for trains to get out of the way," said Nate Asplund, BNSF director of public private partnerships. "It will be a reduction in at-grade crossing delays and a definite improvement in air quality."

If the bid for federal funding is successful, it would be a rare sign of progress on Tower 55, which has been under study by regional planners for more than five years.

The intersection, which features two rail lines running east-west and two running north-south, is one of the most congested in the U.S. About 112 trains pass through the intersection each day, and trains are often queued up on side tracks across Tarrant County, their diesel engines idling, while waiting their turn to go through.

The long-term plan is to dig a trench and move one set of Tower 55 railroad tracks below the other — but no funding sources have been identified for that $700 million-plus project.

Read more in Fort Star-Telegram

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Transportation bill clears first hurdle; opposition still lurks

By DAVE MONTGOMERY - Fort Worth Star Telegram - March 25, 2009

AUSTIN — Legislation aimed at funding billions of dollars in road and rail improvements in North Texas cleared its first hurdle in the Legislature on Wednesday, winning approval from a key Senate committee.

The 7-2 vote by the Transportation and Homeland Security Committee sends the bill to the Senate floor for a vote as early as next week.

"We’ll pass it," Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, the committee chairman and sponsor of SB 855, said of the likely outcome in the Senate. Approval there would send the issue to the House, where Rep. Vicki Truitt, R-Keller, is sponsoring a companion measure.

Sens. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Joan Huffman, R-Houston, voted against the bill.

City and county governments throughout North Texas, including Fort Worth and Arlington, have made the bill their top legislative priority to help the area escape traffic congestion and pollution they say endanger future development. But opposition has arisen on several fronts amid concerns that proposed fees and taxes in the bill would impose further hardships during the recession.

The legislation would allow countywide elections in which voters would decide on a menu of funding options to finance transportation improvements at the local level. North Texas officials want to use the revenue to improve roads and develop more than 200 miles of commuter rail throughout Dallas-Fort Worth, the fourth most populous region in the nation.

Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, secured an amendment that would spare users of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport from an added $2-a-day parking assessment at public lots. Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, questioned the exemption, but Carona noted that parking charges at the airport are already among the costliest in the region, about $12 to $15 a day.

"It seemed like a reasonable compromise," Carona said.

The committee also added an amendment by Carona that would prohibit the use of revenue raised for the transportation projects to be used for lobbying. The Dallas lawmaker said he wanted to include the restriction because "of public concern over taxpayer-funded lobbying."

Fort Worth, Arlington and the multicity Tarrant Regional Transportation Coalition have agreed to pay $275,000 to a prominent Austin lobbying firm, HillCo Partners, to help push the transportation bill through the Legislature.

The bill was originally designed for North Texas but has been broadened to include local-option provisions for the Austin and San Antonio areas, and the committee accepted an amendment that would add El Paso to the mix. Gov. Rick Perry, who at first supported the measure, has raised concerns about the inclusion of regions other than North Texas.

Williamson County, near Austin, would be excluded from the bill under another amendment adopted on behalf of Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, who is cool to the legislation and whose district includes the county.

Under the measure, local voters would choose from a combination of proposed funding sources, including fees on parking, vehicle emissions and driver’s license renewals. The bill also includes an optional tax on gasoline or diesel fuel and "an impact fee" charged to new Texas residents.

Ellis said he fears that the bill would create a "system of city-states," but he acknowledged that cities may need to find new revenue sources for transportation because of inadequate funding from the state.
Read more in the Fort Worth Star Telegram