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
SPRINGTOWN – After finding that a breaker manufactured by a company with a history of issues contributed to a house fire Friday, Parker County Fire Marshal Shawn Scott is urging Parker County residents with Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok circuit breakers to call an electrician and get them checked for safety.
Candidates have filed for city, school board elections
Filings for May 10 city and school board elections are now complete. A summary follows:
On the Aledo ISD school board incumbents David Davis, in Place 6, and Hoyt Harris, in Place 7, have both filed for re-election, each drawing one or more opponents. Farida Goderya has filed for Place 6, opposite Davis, and Riley Morrison and Debra Rogers have filed for Place 7, opposite Harris.
East Parker County Calendar of Events
The East Parker County Chamber of Commerce will welcome retired USAF SMSGT Vernon M. Anderson, Jr., senior technical instructor, Bell Helicopter, Integrated Operations Engineering Support Technical Training Department, as the key note speaker for the March 12 luncheon.
The Sunny Side
WILLOW PARK – Peppered with anecdotes from his stellar baseball career, former Texas Rangers catcher Jim Sundberg gave witness to his Christian faith and told how it changed his life before a crowd of about 200 at the recent annual Trinity Christian Academy dinner and fundraiser.
Aledo ISD approves suicide prevention program
The Aledo School Board approved the LifeLines Suicide Prevention Program in February, lining up with a recommendation from the Student Health Advisory Council, which has spent a year reviewing choices.
Aledo ISD could save up to $2 million
Expecting to save close to $2 million, Aledo ISD trustees recently voted to let district staff pull the trigger on a bank-qualified refunding of some of the district’s outstanding bonds once market conditions are optimum.
Don't feed the deer!
HUDSON OAKS — The city council recently passed an ordinance banning the feeding of deer.
Parker County Sheriff's Report Feb. 27-March 2
Burglary of a vehicle
Deputies were dispatched to the 300 block of James Street in Aledo shortly after 6 p.m. regarding the burglary of a vehicle.
ASK A MASTER GARDENER: Is it too early to start a vegetable garden?
Considering our winter temperatures this year, that’s a good question. When it comes to a successful vegetable garden, timing is everything. The goal in Texas is to have most of your vegetable crops mature before the temperatures soar in mid-summer.
EXTENSION NEWS: Getting more zzzs could help you lose some lbs.
We spend about one-third of our lifetime sleeping. Sleep is important for learning and memory. Sleep also helps our immune system to resist illness and disease, increases response times in emergencies, improves our mood and feelings of wellness and gives us the energy we need to be more active and alert.
- More Aledo ExtrA Headlines
- Breaker, breaker!