A. Lee Graham
Preliminary engineering and property acquisition continue for TEX Rail as planning for the hotly anticipated commuter rail project takes shape.
Officials received a progress report at the Oct. 3 meeting of the Passenger Rail Working Group, a recently formed committee promoting transportation alternatives.
â€œWe just passed the 15 percent mark,â€ said Rob Harmon, TEX Rail program manager with the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, or The T, referring to preliminary engineering.
The 37-mile commuter rail is planned to run from southwest Fort Worth to Grapevine and the north end of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
Having received interest from six contractors, officials planning the project are expected to narrow the number down in the next few weeks before making a final â€¨selection.
As for securing access agreements from property owners along the corridor, Harmon reported progress. â€œWeâ€™re making good progress on some of those,â€ he said, referring to owners of existing railroads that would allow TEX Rail operation within their rights of way.
Officials have applied for $415 million in federal funding for the $960 million project. The original $758 million estimate rose recently due to finance charges, among other factors, according to a T news release.
Planners continue to work with the Federal Transit Administration, which gave the project a â€œmedium-highâ€ rating.
â€œIt doesnâ€™t sound like a very good rating, but it is the highest rating,â€ Harmon said. â€œThis is a competitive process, so itâ€™s very important that we maintain this very high level.â€
Harmon referred to transportation projects in other parts of the country also vying for a piece of the federal funding pie.
Another potential funding tool is the Cotton Belt Corridor Innovative Finance Initiative, through which the North Central Texas Council of Governments and Regional Transportation Council investigate other potential funding sources.
â€œWeâ€™ll continue to pursue the new-starts program for funding,â€ said rail group and T board member Gary Cumbie, referring to the Federal Transit Administration funding resource. â€œBut if it appears the Innovative Finance Initiative provides a better, faster way to get where weâ€™re going, we can pursue that.â€
Emphasizing the regional approach was Fort Worth District 6 Councilman Jungus Jordan, chairman of the passenger rail group.
â€œThe T and other agencies are working in coordination with the RTC,â€ Jordan said. â€œThis is a parallel effort.â€
Officials hope to begin TEX Rail service in 2016. Station locations must be selected and preliminary engineering work completed by early 2013.
Earlier, a regional transportation leader assured residents that area interstate freeways are not being converted into toll roads. Still, he acknowledged that tolls are part of some planned managed lanes.
â€œThe public still doesnâ€™t know why weâ€™re having to build toll roads and put tolls on our managed lanes,â€ said Dan Kessler, assistant director of transportation for the Council of Governments, speaking at the Tarrant Regional Transportation Coalition meeting that preceded the rail group â€¨meeting.
The reason is simple, Kessler said: â€œThere are no dollars available to build freeways. Freeways are no longer free.â€
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