$80 million stimulus sought for passenger rail plan
Josh Baugh, Express-News
August 4, 2009

The Texas Department of Transportation is seeking $80 million in federal stimulus funding to help cover the cost of developing a commuter rail line between San Antonio and Austin, state Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon announced Monday.

Standing by a locomotive at Sunset Station near downtown, McClendon, D-San Antonio, said TxDOT would formally request $1.9 billion for rail projects across the state, including money for a proposed Austin-San Antonio line.

"There's just no way in this state that we can tackle these massive transportation challenges without freight and passenger rail," McClendon said. "It absolutely has to be a component to our roads and our highways."

If TxDOT wins the federal funding, the Austin-San Antonio rail-relocation project would be $80 million closer to covering its estimated $2.5 billion price tag, McClendon said.

There's been some recent movement on the commuter-rail front across Texas. TxDOT is seeking its first director for the newly created Rail Division, and lawmakers this year finally allocated money to the Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund, which voters approved in 2005.

Pending certification by the state comptroller, the funds — $182 million in all — will be used by TxDOT to provide bonding for statewide rail projects, McClendon said.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said the funding allocations mark a decade of hard work and noted that he could foresee a day when people would ride trains not only to Austin but to Arkansas, Oklahoma and beyond.

"We're finally beginning to see some daylight," he said.

County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson thanked Wolff for his unwavering support for rail — even when it wasn't a popular idea.

"It's a great day to see all the stars aligning for Bexar County," Adkisson said. "We are together on this. By golly, we're going to move this train down the track."

There was an air of excitement among the politicians and officials at Monday's announcement. Still, they tempered their excitement with the reality that the funding announcements were just an initial step in creating a commuter rail system in Texas.

Vic Boyer, the executive director of the San Antonio Mobility Coalition, said the announcement was an important one.

"It's a small piece, but a very significant first piece," he said.

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