TEX Rail, a proposed commuter rail line from downtown Fort Worth to Grapevine and the north entrance to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport will be awarded $50 million in a package of federal projects to be announced Wednesday, officials said. “This is a true reflection of our partnership with the Federal Transit Administration and the diligent work of the T’s staff,” said Scott Mahaffey, chairman of the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, also known as the T. "This is an important partnership milestone for the region."
The money is far from all that's needed to complete the estimated $810 million TEX Rail project. But it's a strong sign that the T's request for the federal government to eventually pay up to half the full cost is at least getting serious consideration in Washington. The funding is part of President Obama's proposal to spend $302 billion on transportation during the next four years, including $2.5 billion on new rail and other transit projects across the nation. Details of the plan will be discussed during a conference call by Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on Wednesday.
The T has requested a federal “new-starts” transit grant of roughly $405 million. Critics are skeptical the Fort Worth project will qualify for such a large grant, given that dozens of cities across the United States are competing for the same pot of federal funds — including many places with passenger rail projects that are further along in the planning process.
However, the TEX Rail project was one of just seven new-starts projects recommended to begin receiving some level of funding in the package. In addition to TEX Rail, projects in Los Angeles, Orlando, Fla., Cambridge, Mass, Portland, Ore., and two projects in the Baltimore area are slated to receive a combined $578 million.
The lion’s share of the federal funding package for transit improvements, $1.4 billion, was pegged for a handful of big-dollar projects that are already underway. Those projects already have what’s known as a full-funding agreement - or a commitment from the federal government that that will be funded to completion - and they include rail and other transit operations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Charlotte, N.C., and New York.
“The majority of the projects are fixed guideway transit projects, meaning they use or occupy a separate right-of-way such as rails, ‘catenaries’ or exclusive bus lanes,” read the annual report on funding recommendations, which was prepared by the Federal Transit Administration. This includes rapid rail, light rail, streetcar, commuter rail, and bus rapid transit. The program has helped to make possible dozens of new or extended transit systems across the country. These public transportation investments, in turn, have improved the mobility and quality of life of millions of Americans, provided alternatives to congested roadways and fostered the development of more economically vibrant communities.”
The TEX Rail project has been discussed in North Texas for more than a decade, and many elected officials have expressed concern that the T isn’t moving fast enough. A little more than a year ago, Fort Worth’s City Council replaced eight of nine T board members, saying they wanted to bring in new blood to speed up TEX Rail. Tarrant County followed suit by replacing the T’s ninth board member.
A year later, the new members of the T board still haven’t been able to sign agreements with the railroads that own the right-of-way TEX Rail would use — Dallas Area Rapid Transit, Union Pacific Railroad and Fort Worth & Western Railroad. Also, a former Trinity Railway Express maintenance officer has gone public with concerns about the use of lighter rail cars for TEX Rail — cars that are known to have trouble making the electrical connection necessary to trigger crossing lights and gates and to help dispatchers track their whereabouts by computer.
Those problems aside, the T has completed several years worth of work on its environmental study for TEX Rail, and hopes to get a "record of decision" from the Federal Transit Administration within the next couple of months. A record of decision on the environmental plans would allow the T to begin final design of stations and new track work, and to begin purchasing rail cars, which take about two years from order to delivery.
The $50 million that will be announced Wednesday would be available Oct. 1, the beginning of the 2015 fiscal year. The timing of the announcement would seem to indicate that the money would be available for the T to spend on TEX Rail final design and engineering, but T spokeswoman Joan Hunter said Tuesday night that officials had just learned of the funding and didn’t yet have details about how it could be spent.
The local half of the TEX Rail project would be funded from a combination of sources, T chief financial officer Rob Harmon said. It would include roughly $200 million in sales tax contributions from Fort Worth and Grapevine, $120 million in state funds, $60 million in other unspecified federal grants and $20 million from Tarrant County.
- Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796 Twitter: @gdickson
The latest edition of our fabled Air, Land & Sea podcast is out. In this episode, Star-Telegram aviation writer Andrea Ahles talks about the flight attendants unions at the new American Airlines coming together with management to talk about a new contract, and yours truly provides an update on the proposal to build a 220 mph bullet train from Dallas to Houston. A two-year environmental study on the proposed Texas Central Railway line is expected to begin in the next three months, and Texans can expect to learn more specifics about more precisely where the high-speed tracks would go.
It seemed perhaps an unlikely match when the North Texas Tollway Authority set up a booth at this year's Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. But as it turns out, the Plano-based agency sold more than a few TollTags to the farm and ranch crowd. The main draw is apparently Chisholm Trail Parkway, a 28-mile toll road connecting Fort Worth to Cleburne that is scheduled to open in May.
A $166 million makeover of Interstate 30 in Arlington was dubbed the "Three Bridges project." The work created a modern, efficient way to move traffic into the city's entertainment district, including the Dallas Cowboys' AT&T Stadium and the Rangers' Globe Life Ballpark. But, like all good things, the work came to an end on the west side of Arlington, near the Cooper Street overpass. There, about six lanes of traffic in each direction from the modernized version of I-30 squeeze back down into the old configuration, only three lanes in each direction, which continues all the way to downtown Fort Worth. Here' s a video I did on the I-30 mess, which includes some updated information on what the Texas Department of Transportation is doing about it.
New leadership is on the way at the Fort Worth Transportation Authority. The agency, also known as the T, has hired a new president - Paul Ballard, who since 2002 has been CEO of the Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority.
Ballard helped bring commuter rail to Nashville in 2006 - although the Music City Star has been criticized for a lack of ridership.
More recently, Ballard has pushed hard for a bus rapid transit line in Nashville, the Amp, but has faced fierce opposition to that $174 million plan.
In North Texas, Ballard's job No. 1 will be to get the proposed TEX Rail commuter line open by 2017 or shortly thereafter ... and to do that he and other supporters will have to find a way to persuade the Federal Transit Administration to provide several hundred million dollars in funding.
Ballard also will be asked to extend T bus service to areas of the city that have been traditionally ignored, including the far north side. And, he will be asked to form a closer relationship with Arlington, which turned to Dallas Area Rapid Transit instead of the T when it came time to launch a pilot bus service to the Trinity Railway Express CentrePort Station.
Amp photo: Nashville Business Journal
Thanks to everyone who took part in our Twitter chat today. Let's do it again soon. My colleague, @maricare, Storified the chat, and if you'd like to see her work go here.
Posted at 02:33 PM in 287/I-20/U.S. 67, 35W NORTH OF FW, 35W SOUTH OF FW, 377 (Denton Highway), I-20, I-30, Loop 820, Southwest Parkway/121T/Chisholm Trail, Texas 161, TX 114, TX 121, TX 170, TX 183, TX 360, Current Affairs, Driving, Gas prices and gas guzzlin', Mobile phones, cell phones, texting, talking and driving, No Car. No Problem., Toll Roads, Traffic, Trains, buses 'n such, Travel, Web/Tech, Weblogs, Your morning commute | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
For several weeks now, I've been working on a story about the evolution of Texas 114, which is now a hugely important economic corridor connecting Dallas, Irving, Grapevine, Southlake, Roanoke and far north Fort Worth ... to name a few cities. Along with the main story, I also put together a Storymap, which was fun and sort of a new way to tell a news story online and in mobile devices and tablets such as iPad. Let me know what you think.
Also, don't forget to join me at noon for a Twitter chat. I'm normally @gdickson but today I will be chatting @startelegram, which is the Star-Telegram's main Twitter account. I'll be using the hashtag #dfwtraffic, so send in some transportation questions. Thanks!
Posted at 09:59 AM in 287/I-20/U.S. 67, 35W NORTH OF FW, 377 (Denton Highway), Loop 820, TX 114, TX 121, TX 170, TX 183, TX 360, Current Affairs, Driving, Gas prices and gas guzzlin', Mobile phones, cell phones, texting, talking and driving, Toll Roads, Traffic, Travel, Your morning commute | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
A $2.5 billion (yes, with a 'b') makeover of Loop 820 and Texas 121/183 "Airport Freeway" in Northeast Tarrant County will be completed by the end of 2014 - at least six months ahead of schedule.
That's the latest word from the folks at North Tarrant Express, the name of the project.
Join us Tuesday, Feb. 25, from noon to 1 p.m., when Star-Telegram transportation writer Gordon Dickson will take over the Star-Telegram's Twitter feed to discuss the hot topics that involve your commute.
Here are the details:
When: Noon to 1 p.m. CST, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014
Topic: Join Star-Telegram transportation writer Gordon Dickson --@gdickson -- for a conversation on #DFWtraffic. Ask questions and get answers on what's making you honkin' mad.
Host: Star-Telegram: @startelegram
Moderator: Maricar Estrella, Deputy Managing Editor/Community Engagement: @maricare
Can’t make the chat? Comment below with your questions or go to the Star-Telegram Facebook page from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. CST on Tuesday, Feb. 25 to join the Facebook discussion.
Posted at 03:30 PM in RED LIGHT CAMERAS, 287/I-20/U.S. 67, 35W NORTH OF FW, 35W SOUTH OF FW, 377 (Denton Highway), I-20, I-30, Loop 820, Southwest Parkway/121T/Chisholm Trail, Texas 161, TX 114, TX 121, TX 170, TX 183, TX 360, Current Affairs, Driving, Fun, Gas prices and gas guzzlin', Mobile phones, cell phones, texting, talking and driving, No Car. No Problem., Toll Roads, Traffic, Trains, buses 'n such, Travel, trucks, Video, movies, Weblogs, Your morning commute | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)