Can anything stop the TEX Rail train? - Watchdog.org
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Can anything stop the TEX Rail train?

By   /   February 4, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Sometimes, state Sen. Konni Burton said, it feels like the people of northeast Tarrant County are being run over by a runaway train.

No matter the opposition or the considerable number of questions that go unanswered – not the least of which is where nearly $500 million is going to come from to pay for it – the TEX Rail train just keeps coming.

“I feel as though they aren’t listening, they’re just moving ahead and there’s nothing that can stop it,” Burton, R-Colleyville, told Watchdog this week.

Burton has decided to stand on the tracks — metaphorically speaking — somewhere on the proposed 27-miles route from Fort Worth and the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport and question the wisdom of spending almost $1 billion for a service she says most people along the route don’t want or need.

State Sen. Konni Burton wants to put the brakes on a $1 billion commuter train project in Tarrant County.

State Sen. Konni Burton wants to put the brakes on a $1 billion commuter train project in Tarrant County.

“The two obvious problems with this are that our local officials are entering into a multi-year, billion-dollar project with the irrational and fiscally irresponsible federal government,” Burton wrote in an editorial last Wednesday for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, “and that we are artificially creating supply for a commodity that has little demand.”

Burton said she wrote the piece with a sense that officials for the Fort Worth Transportation Authority developing the TEX Rail project and state transportation officials had stopped listening.

If they were ever listening.

Little opposition was heard in December when U.S. Rep. Kay Granger enthusiastically announced a $100 million federal fast track for TEX Rail that would leave the project about $470 million, or nearly half of the current estimated cost, short.

Nor was much made of an agreement about the same time with the Fort Worth Authority and Dallas Area Rapid Transit, Fort Worth & Western Railroad, Union Pacific Railroad and  Amtrak to use existing track from downtown Fort Worth through North Richland Hills, Colleyville and Grapevine to the airport.

The angry voices at the public forums early last year, particularly from people in homes along the proposed route in Colleyville, have largely gone silent. City Council member Chris Putnam refused to be muzzled.

Putnam has done the heavy lifting and the number crunching and put it all in a power point presentation he has delivered many times to anyone who will sit still to see it.

The numbers — the cost to build, the cost to maintain, the burden on taxpayers and the prospective number of riders to even hope to break even — don’t add up, Putnam told Watchdog.

Putnam’s numbers show the population of Tarrant County growing robustly while ridership on the area’s two other commuter rail lines is off by 25 percent from 2008 to 2013.

Numbers pulled from the proposal itself  led TEX Rail planners to conclude the rail line, even if the generous 10,000 riders a day projections are met, will not significantly change automobile traffic volumes and patterns along the route.

“That’s the biggest insult in the whole thing,” Putnam said. “It doesn’t solve any traffic problems. This isn’t even a transportation project. It’s an economic development project. What business is it of government to use transportation to force its vision of economic development on us?”

In 2009, before he joined, the Colleyville City Council passed a resolution in support of commuter rail, without having a concrete plan in front of it. The resolution called for a referendum that would allow voters to decide on whether to pay for the local share of the project when those final figures became available.

When Colleyville residents in 2014 learned where the Fort Worth to DFW line was going to run, more than 1,000 people signed a petition in opposition, Putnam said. Public forums were well attended and noisy.

Putnam went to the mayor and council and asked them as a symbolic gesture to rescind the 2009 resolution. Not a single other elected official would go along with him.

As current Mayor Pro Tem Mike Taylor told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in September 2014, Colleyville would not be able to stand alone against the train.

“My problem is we’re talking and misleading people into thinking we can stop it when every city along the way has an equal right to it,” Taylor said at the time. “We still do live in a democracy and those other cities have publicly said they want it. They’ve taken steps to finance it and get in line for stations.”

Since then Putnam’s and any other opposition coming out of Colleyville has been portrayed by rail project advocates and the press as provincial myopia.

“We’re seen as a bunch of rich people opposed to public transportation,” Putnam said. “They’re going to shove it down our throats whether we want it or not.”

Putnam and Burton have focused their attention on asking what happens if the project moves ahead on a few hundred million dollars in seed money and federal rail funding dries up.

Neither Putnam nor Burton have been able to find in writing a commitment from the Texas Department of Transportation to underwrite with taxpayer dollars roughly $50 million the $96.1 million Fort Worth Authority officials say they need from the state.

Watchdog on Wednesday morning asked TXDot officials for that answer, but received no response.

At the end of this year the Authority counted just under $290 million in sales tax revenue from Fort Worth and Grapevine toward the total project cost. Another $150 million has so far come from the federal government; $46 million from the state; $25 million from toll money collected in the area; and $20 million from Tarrant County.

If Burton had her way, not another penny would be added to that total.

“It’s just more taxpayer funds down a black hole,” she said. “They’re just moving ahead without considering any of the long-term repercussions. It’s government at its best and I mean that in the worst way.”

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Mark Lisheron is the Austin-based reporter for Watchdog.org. He first served as a national Watchdog reporter before joining Texas Watchdog. He spent almost 30 years in newspapers, 14 of those years for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and a decade with the Austin American-Statesman. Mark can be reached on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog or by email at [email protected]