March 15, 2009
In 2005, Texas voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment creating the Texas Rail Relocation and Improvement fund. Coupled with legislation that was passed the same year, the fund has been waiting to go to work solving some of the most congested rail bottlenecks in the country.
However, the Legislature has yet to put a significant investment into the fund. It’s not just year-to-year budget difficulties that have held up the money – the legislature would ultimately need to make a long-term commitment to rail funding if the program is to meet its potential.
Senate Bill 1923 is designed to identify transportation funds that the legislature has statutory authority – money the state is already spending on transportation – and dedicate it to rail funding.
Perhaps most importantly, the bill sets a precedent for funding a truly comprehensive transportation system in Central Texas by preventing these funds to be dedicated to rail if the State Highway Fund doesn’t end up with more money in the next budget than it has in the current one. That way, rail doesn’t compete against roads, and Texas gets what it really needs: more of both.