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Regional rail backers seek funds from CAMPO

Friday, March 21, 2008 by Austin Monitor

Supporters of the proposed commuter line from Austin to San Antonio (Austin-San Antonio Inter-Municipal Commuter Rail district) asked CAMPO Board Members Monday night to include their project in its request for federal highway funds through the Surface Transportation Program – Metropolitan Mobility program.


“Our request for STP-MM funds is motivated by a joint meeting of the Austin and San Antonio MPO’s (metropolitan planning organization) that was held in April of 2004,” said State Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio. “At that time, MPO board members from both ends of the corridor suggested that each MPO contribute $5 million per year for ten years. Last year, the San Antonio MPO committed $20 million to the Austin-San Antonio Commuter Rail project.” Wentworth said contributions from the northern end of the corridor would effectively leverage contributions from the San Antonio area.


Following Wentworth was former Austin Mayor Bruce Todd, who spoke on behalf of the commuter rail district. “It is important in any growing, vibrant area that there be a balance in transportation, that roads not be the only solution,” he said. “This is our opportunity, as I-35 was 50 years ago, as was MoPac 35 years ago. It will be our opportunity as we go about the road work that obviously is necessary.”


Any money received by the commuter rail district from CAMPO under the STP-MM program would likely be used for preliminary engineering, modeling the operation of passenger trains on the Union Pacific rail line, and environmental clearance work. “Our application is to provide monies we need to develop some of the really necessary, concrete deliverables we require to move forward,” said Sid Covington, chair of the Austin-San Antonio Inter-Municipal Commuter Rail District. “We’re targeting the beginning of operations within the corridor in the 2011-2012 time-frame.”


The board was not posted for action on those requests Monday night, only for public comment. Several bicycle activists also used the public hearing to call for more funding for bicycle projects. Officials with the Capital Area Transportation Coalition and the Austin Chamber of Commerce used the public hearing to request funds for extending Howard Lane east to connect with the SH-130 toll road.


“Between I-35 and MoPac, we are lacking in some east-west connectivity there. We’re all familiar with that,” said Sandra Hentges, senior vice president with the Austin Chamber of Commerce. “We want to see us avoid that same situation between I-35 and SH-130. This is a great opportunity for us to get out there and provide that connectivity, take advantage of the assets that we have, and get this project done.”

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