Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Prop 1 : "This is going to be an amendment to issue bonds, and we're the ones who will be holding the bank"

Rail line relocation on ballot

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

By Stephen Palkot
Fort Bend Herald
Copyright 2005

A Texas Constitutional amendment dealing with railroad lines could be of great help to Fort Bend County, but questions over its finances leave some skeptical.

Amendment No. 1 to the Texas Constitution would create a Texas rail and relocation fund, which is proposed as a treasury through which the state can raise general obligation bonds. Those funds, in turn, would pay for constructing and relocating rail lines, along with the construction of bridges and other related infrastructure.

Rosenberg Mayor Joe Gurecky said for years local leaders have wanted to relocate rail lines, as increasing rail traffic creates conflicts with auto traffic and increases the potential for a costly and dangerous rail accident. However, high costs have prevented action.

County Judge Bob Hebert has also been examining the issue, and he has supported studies looking into rail relocation. He believes the proposed amendment could help the county in this endeavor.

"I think it would be a good tool," he said.

Gov. Rick Perry strongly supports the amendment, said spokesman Robert Black. Passing the measure by constitutional amendment allows the treasury greater options than by state law.

"The governor has been a longtime advocate of taking steps to move our rail cargo lines out of the city centers. We have hazardous materials on railroad tracks going next to schools, through neighborhoods, and where trail derailments are all too frequent," he said.

However, opponents of the amendment point out that no specific number has been given for the relocation fund, and that relocating rail lines could be extremely expensive.

Rail companies have signed memorandums of agreement to fund rail projects in conjunction with the state, but have not agreed on any dollar amounts.

State Rep. Dora Olivo, D-Rosenberg, said she urges voters to examine the issue before casting their own ballot.

"There are some concerns I have about it. And some of those are that this is an expensive proposition. This is going to be an amendment to issues bonds, and we're the ones who will be holding the bank.

"Cities like San Antonio that have really grown, they don't want rail lines running through them. But the rail lines are important for industry, and most industry doesn't like going out to the 'sticks.'"

State Rep. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, supports the measure. He said the creation of the state treasury fund could speed the rehabilitation of the abandoned Tex-Mex rail line along U.S. 59, a project highly anticipated by neighboring Wharton County.

"I envision that the fund could have been beneficial many years ago to get that rail rebuilt," he said.

Funding the rail lines could benefit the entire state by encouraging industry along the lines and therefore, yield taxes for the communities along the rails, said Hegar.

"At the end of the day, I saw it as more of a benefit for the state and the district," he said.

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