Opposition to Texas bill limiting commuter rail projects

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AUSTIN, Texas— Texas has been a hotbed of passenger rail projects over the last few years, but a bill before the state Legislature intends to make new more projects far more difficult to undertake.

Senate Bill 385, proposed by State Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, requires that every municipality through which a prospective new commuter rail project operates holds a vote and approves of the project before construction can begin. Essentially, the bill would give a single city the power to veto new passenger rail projects.

Senate Bill 385 has drawn criticism from advocates and civic planners working to bring more transportation options to the Dallas-Fort Worth area. All three agencies serving the region — Dallas Area Rapid Transit, the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, and the Denton County Transportation Authority — operate at least one route that passes through multiple cities.

“We are opposed to the general principle of the bill,” says Michael Morris, of the North Central Texas Council of Government’s Director of Transportation, “How are we supposed to build our region if one community can have veto power?

Senate Bill 385 has its roots in some Colleyville citizens’ opposition to the TEX Rail commuter railroad project currently being built to connect Fort Worth and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Throughout the planning process, residents cited concerns that the train would increase noise and negatively effect on property values. The city of Colleyville voted down proposals to contribute taxes to TEX Rail and had elected not to construct a station.

“Communities and transit agencies usually propose plans together years in advance and then work towards consensus,” Morris says. “It would be difficult to have that conversation when we can’t even plan without total agreement. Having to do democracy by 100-percent consensus would be a new reality.”

It’s unclear whether Senate Bill 385 will have any direct affect on the TEX Rail project, since it is already funded and has entered the initial stages of construction. Executives with DART expressed concern that the bill could hamper their ability to begin construction on two proposed system expansions, the D2 downtown realignment and the Cotton Belt Line to connect Dallas’ northern suburbs and Dallas-Fort Worth airport.

“Based on what we are hearing back, and word is this is intended to be specific to the TEX Rail project, the words just don’t mirror that,” DART’s president Gary Thomas said of Senate Bill 385 at a recent board meeting. He took issue with another stipulation in the bill requiring that rail projects will need to be re-approved by voters if more than five years elapses between the initial vote and the commencement of construction: Many of DART’s current lines and future projects have been in pre-planning for a decade or more.

So far, North Texas communities have been the most aggressive in pursuing new passenger rail options, but any project within the state could potentially be stymied if the bill passes.

“This is one of the worst pieces of transportation legislation ever laid out before senators on the transportation committee,” says Peter LeCody, president of Texas Rail Advocates. “It is highly discriminatory against passenger rail versus any other form of transportation like highways, airports, or ports. If enacted into law this ‘kill commuter rail bill’ would force citizens all over the state off of trains and back into their cars, creating more traffic nightmares. It’s just plain ludicrous.”

The Texas Senate is also expected to consider other bills targeting high-speed rail projects during the same legislative session.

Senator Burton’s office did not respond to the Trains News Wire’s request for information.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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