Is the 90A Commuter Rail a “viable” project for Fort Bend County
By Karen Daniels
Introduced to the US House by Transportation Secretary, Anthony Foxx, the dubbed, Grow America Act, is a “long-term” $302 billion transportation bill that would give more control over infrastructure funding to cities and local governments. Last week, a provision in that act was added for the restriction on use of federal funds for passenger rail on Richmond Avenue. According to Mayor Scarcella, who is in favor of 90A passenger rail and present during the vote for this provision, this does not mean that the funds set aside for the Richmond Avenue project will be transferred to a 90A project. In order for that to happen, Metro will need to submit an application quickly, which is not without complexity.
At this time, the project is in such early stages that the different modes of rail transportation – light, heavy, commuter – have not yet been decided. Mayor Scarcella “would prefer commuter rail” along the right-of-way, grade separated track(s) that Union Pacific owns and operates. Union Pacific has gone on record stating they never promised commuter rail with the installation of a second line. They want their lines used primarily to transport long distance cargo. In 2004 the results of a feasibility study conducted by the City of Stafford advised that passenger rail was “viable.” Ten years later, with higher numbers in population, this study result would likely be “more viable.” The Mayor stated, “How are you going to use public transportation if you have none?”
Currently, the Gulf Coast Rail District is conducting a study (available late summer/early fall 2014) that includes consideration of the “Southern Bypass” which would move freight rail from 90A between Richmond/Rosenberg and Missouri City, and move it outside city limits for safety considerations. This would require freight trains to travel approximately 225 extra miles per year. Costs for this project range around $1 billion. Union Pacific most likely is not going to want to pay for this. But for argument sake, if they did, this would only relieve 70% of rail traffic. There are businesses along 90A between these two points that use rail.
The argument that Texans prefer their cars is an important component. Why build it if they won’t come? Dallas was able to make DART a success and Mayor Scarcella has hope that the people of Fort Bend will be the driving force for commuter rail. “Getting them interested and involved” he said, will make the difference.
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