It was recently reported that TexRail received a $100 million line item in President Obama’s 2016 budget. Despite concerns over an alleged transportation funding “shortfall” and opposition from local constituents, Republicans representing Tarrant County at the federal, state, and county level are currently poised to fund the commuter transit line over alternative road projects.
Although TexRail’s upfront cost is estimated at over $800 million, half of which will come from state and local taxes, local taxpayers will continue to divert sales and property tax revenue indefinitely to fund its operation, just as they do for existing government-run trains. Fort Worth’s own transit agency, the “T”, admits TexRail will have no positive environmental impact or measurable reduction in roadway congestion. Even worse, it’s projected to only service less than 0.5% of commuters.
It appears the T’s push for service expansion may have more to do with the bureaucracy combating declining ridership than providing transportation utility. Despite a regional boom in population growth, ridership on the T’s existing passenger trains has declined significantly since 2009, dropping below 2003 levels. TexRail’s trains will be diesel powered, which has raised additional concerns that the project amounts to nothing more than an infrastructure subsidy to freight companies who will continue to use the corridor.
If the project loses support at the state or local level, it is likely to be killed before construction begins in 2016. The state’s $96 million commitment from the often-abused Texas Mobility Fund has drawn the attention of Tarrant County legislators who would prefer the fund be used for needed roadway projects.
But if local residents fail to contact their state, county, and local officials to express their opposition, local officials will continue to pressure state and federal lawmakers for funding.
Support has come primarily from local politicians sitting on the Regional Transportation Council, such as Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitely (R). Tarrant County has already pledged $20 million in road bonds for rail construction. Interestingly, when Tarrant County voters approved the transportation bond in 2006, the ballot language did not mention that any of the new debt for roads would be spent on transit.
Additional support has come from city officials in Fort Worth and Grapevine, including Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price who scolded transit bureaucrats over project delays two years ago. The timing for taxpayer opposition couldn’t be better—Price has announced she is running for re-election this May.
Will voters make this a campaign issue or allow “conservative” state and local officials to further aid Obama’s pro-rail agenda focused on diverting even more state and local tax revenue away from roads?