By JUDY SHERIDAN
WILLOW PARK — Citing projected increases in growth, congestion, and air pollution, Tom Shelton, of the North Central Texas Council of Governments, made a convincing case for local commuter rail at a luncheon called by County Judge Mark Riley Friday at Clear Fork Banquet Hall.
Listeners, however, were quick to understand the rub.
“Where does the money come from,” one asked, learning that the federal government decides how much revenue from gasoline taxes is set aside for passenger rail — and that the level of those funds is declining.
“What is a donor area,” another asked, pointing to an overhead projection.
“The federal gas tax that goes to Washington is appropriated and returned to the states for transportation needs,” Shelton explained. “Some — lower density states — get back more, but Texas gets less. Just 92 percent of the gas tax we pay in comes back to us.”
Declaring there is no such thing as federal funding, local resident Jack Cavenah proposed rail corridors be built between lanes on the interstate to save right-of-way costs.
“The federal government doesn’t have any money,” he said. “They give us money back that we send up there, and depending on how good we are, and how we jump to their tune, is how much we get back.
“Why can we not build like the northwest does, right down the middle of the interstate,” he said. “We’ve already got the right-of-way; you don’t have to buy anything.”
About 50 local officials and others gathered to listen to Shelton’s presentation Friday, which centered on commuter rail plans for the 12-county North Texas area NCTCOG is responsible for.
Parker is the westernmost county; others are Wise, Denton, Collin, Hunt, Tarrant, Dallas, Rockwall, Kaufman, Hood, Johnson and Ellis.
“We have a lot of federal responsibilities to develop long-range transportation plans to match up with the growth in the region,” Shelton explained. “We also manage and appropriate a lot of the federal funding that comes to our region.”
Growth in North Texas has averaged 100,000 people per year over the last 10 years, he said, and a current population of 6.3 million is projected to reach 10 million by 2035.
Congestion levels will increase, too, he said, and burning more fuel will worsen EPA non-attainment areas — most of the region.
Shelton said NCTCOG believes the region has a growing need for a robust and sufficient transportation system that will allow people to move around quickly and conveniently.
“We believe strongly in a multi-modal approach,” he said, “not just highways and tollways.”
Shelton pointed to the area’s only commuter rail project, the Trinity Railway Express, which links downtown Dallas Union Station or downtown Fort Worth’s T&P Station with CentrePort/DFW Airport Station.
“It averages 9,000 to 10,000 riders daily,” he said. “We look at the TRE as an indicator of interest and appetite to have intermodal transportation.”
Shelton said the 37-mile Tex Rail project, which stretches from east of Benbrook Lake to DFW Airport, should start construction this time next year.
The best places to implement commuter rail, Shelton said, are the existing freight railroad corridors, most owned by Union Pacific Railroad or BNSF Railroad.
“We believe by negotiating we will be able to implement passenger rail in those corridors,” he said, noting that their locations would be convenient for commuters.
Passenger rail, Shelton said, will soon have more modern-style equipment.
“They’re getting away from the old-style locomotives with the coach cabs following them,” he said.
He also said that NCTCOG was beginning to develop a priority plan for the western region, and will be working with leaders in Parker and Tarrant counties to prioritize projects.
A private consortium from Japan approached NCTCOG a year ago, Shelton said, and wants to come to the U.S. and implement high-speed rail — over 200 mph. He said the group determined the best place to do so would be from Dallas/Fort Worth to Houston, a trip that would then take 90 minutes.
Riley asked Shelton to explain why establishing commuter rail can’t be done quickly.
“There are several key steps,” Shelton said. “The corridors are owned by railroads, and we must reach agreements to operate in their right-of-ways. It typically requires very little right-of-way acquisition; a real benefit is their minimal impact on communities. But we have to reach agreements on safety issues.”
Shelton also listed the level of environmental scrutiny required, the design, engineering and construction of the system, and finding the resources.
By JUDY SHERIDAN
- Aledo ExtrA
Water park burglar sought
Hudson Oaks police are requesting the public’s assistance in catching a burglar who broke into Splash Kingdom Water Park in Hudson Oaks earlier this month.
Commissioner at odds with school district's demand for land
Aledo ISD superintendent Derek Citty is moving forward with plans backed by the school board in May — plans to secure two school sites in the Morningstar subdivision, slated for the corner of Old Weatherford Road and FM Road 3225 in the City of Fort Worth’s extraterritorial jurisdiction.
An unforgettable state championship
Corey Kiser and Riley Sartain, members of Aledo High School’s state champion softball team, honored by trustees last week, are to blame for the 10-3 tattoo on the finger of their coach, Jeff Lemons.
Firefighter arrested for child sexual assault
A volunteer Hudson Oaks firefighter is in the Parker County Jail on charges he repeatedly sexually assaulted two young relatives over a several year period.
Richard Frederick Adams Sr., 62, arrested July 21, faces two charges of continuous sexual abuse of a child under 14, a first-degree felony.
Fire protection improving in Aledo
Stephen Watson, interim chief of Emergency Services District No. 1, briefed the Aledo City Council on improvements to the city’s fire protection — including the purchase of a site for a new fire station — in Thursday night’s Aledo City Council session.
Aledo ISD trustees affirm hiring policy
The Aledo ISD School Board affirmed a policy delegating the hiring of most school personnel to the administration by a 4-1 margin last week, with trustees Jay Stringer, David Tillman, Hoyt Harris and Steve Bartley voting in favor and trustee Bobby Rigues arguing that the board should retain the responsibility.
Aledo coffee shop helps support the troops
HUDSON OAKS — Wild West Splash Kingdom was the host of military members and military supporters the night of Saturday, July 19, during ‘Salute the Troops,’ sponsored by Holy Grounds Coffee and Gifts in Aledo and Ducerus College Planning.
Calendar of events
Holy Grounds Coffee & Gifts, at 108 Jearl Street, is hosting a series of outdoor movies in their parking lot at 8:30 p.m. on Saturdays through Aug. 23.
Admission is free and feature drinks are half price during the films. “The Amazing Spiderman” is Aug. 2, followed by “Tangled” on Aug. 9, “The Lego Movie” on Aug. 16 and “The Avengers” on Aug. 23.
For more information, call 817-440-7770.
A Purple Heart County
County Judge Mark Riley and Parker County commissioners proclaimed Parker County to be a “Purple Heart County” Monday, honoring local veterans and their families in a special ceremony held in the second floor courtroom of the historic courthouse.
Suspicious house fire under investigation
The Weatherford fire marshal says a fire that damaged a house and killed two puppies Wednesday night is being investigated as a suspicious fire and a suspect is in jail on unrelated charges.
- More Aledo ExtrA Headlines
- Water park burglar sought