New hope for passenger rail between SA and Austin

December 23, 2016

A new alliance that aims to tackle transportation issues along Interstate 35 between San Antonio and Austin is strengthening plans for a passenger rail along the sprawling corridor.

 

The partnership brings together the three entities that control 100 percent of the transportation money for the region: the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, or AAMPO, the Capital Area MPO, or CAMPO and the Texas Department of Transportation, commonly known as TxDOT.

 

Bexar County Commissioner Kevin Wolff says it's the first time two metro planning organizations have combined forces.

 

"I think we just took a step that brings us much closer to legitimizing a rail project than Lone Star Rail project ever got to," Wolff said.

 

The alliance was formed after both AAMPO and CAMPO pulled money from the Lone Star Rail project and teamed with TxDOT to tackle traffic between San Antonio and Austin.

 

After meeting Friday, TxDOT received official notice to begin a transportation study. San Antonio Councilman Rob Nirenberg says the study is key to addressing gridlock along the fastest-growing freight corridor in the country.

"We've taken the first steps and ensuring that TxDOT is answering the right questions before we put anything on the ground," Nirenberg said.

 

The study considers a multitude of traffic solutions, including a double-decker highway, toll lanes, and a rail line that would connect the farthest stretches of the cities.

 

The study could take up to two years to complete, and the first phase of the study will likely cost about half a million dollars. Commissioner Wolff believes the full study will likely cost a million dollars by the time it is complete.

 

Some questions have also arisen on why Amtrak might not be a solution. Commissioner Wolff says, 'The problem is that they [Amtrak] already shares that line with Union Pacific [...], and UPs job is freight. It's not passenger rail. So could we make some sort of deal where Amtrak does more frequent stops? Perhaps. But, the reality is, you are dealing with two different entities, one a semi-private with UP and one, semi-public with Amtrak, neither of which go together. Neither of which are going to see it as profitable to them to allow more stops for passenger and less for freight. Or, Amtrak in this case, they don't have any dollars, so it would have to come from us. And, they don't see any real buy that is going to get them more than what they already have which is their one day run from Texas to Chicago.'

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