City officials to study MoKan after rail halted

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Since the removal of the Lone Star Rail District from the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s long-range plan in mid-October, the city of Georgetown is working with regional planning groups to determine next steps for the abandoned MoKan rail corridor.

The 28-mile corridor stretches from just south of Hwy. 29 in Georgetown to Central Austin. Portions of the corridor in Georgetown were being studied in the LSRD’s environmental impact statement. However, additional studies were still needed to determine uses for the remaining right of way, CAMPO spokesperson Doise Miers said.

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“[As part of Lone Star Rail’s environmental impact statement] we would have had all of the field work done on the potential environmental constraints of building in that corridor, and we aren’t going to have that anymore,” Georgetown Transportation Planning Coordinator Ed Polasek said.

CAMPO’s policy board voted Oct. 17 to remove the LSRD from its 2040 long-range transportation plan, which was the final step to end the project.

The vote came months after Union Pacific Corp. told LSRD in February it terminated an agreement with LSRD that would have allowed a commuter rail project to use the freight company’s existing lines and relocate the regional UP freight traffic to a new line to be built east of I-35.

MoKan corridor

The corridor is a mostly state-controlled right of way, which once served as the Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroad line. MoKan runs through Austin, Pflugerville, Round Rock and Georgetown and was once considered to be the path for SH 130 in the 1990s, Polasek said.

The Texas Department of Transportation owns most of the right of way, and the cities of Austin and Georgetown as well as Travis County and some private landowners also control sections, he said.

“I don’t think there is a consensus [on how to use the corridor]among the communities along the line yet,” Polasek said.

Miers said CAMPO hosted a workshop Dec. 2 with officials from jurisdictions along the corridor, including Georgetown, to talk about its possible uses.

“We need to get that conversation started before we can get to a study [of the corridor],” Miers said. “We need to see what needs and concerns there are and what options those jurisdictions would like to see pursued and studied.”

MoKan studies sought

Polasek said the corridor has been the subject of several TxDOT studies since the early 1980s, including a 2006 unadopted draft MoKan Corridor Study that outlined possible uses for the right of way.

TxDOT spokesperson Kelli Reyna said the organization was looking at the 2006 study as a baseline for any future collaborative studies on the corridor.

“This is not [a discussion]that can be had on a city-by-city level,” she said. “It has to happen collaboratively. It needs to come as a regional approach.”

In October, Williamson County Commissioners Court and the cities of Cedar Park and Round Rock approved resolutions to ask the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority to study the MoKan Corridor, including Phase 1 of a tolled roadway between SH 45 N and University Boulevard.

“Other cities have been reaching out to [the Mobility Authority]or other entities to look at their portion,” she said. “But you can’t look at just one portion of MoKan; you have to look at it as a whole. … That way, all the cities can have a say in what happens to the corridor.”

Polasek said it was difficult to determine what could happen to the corridor because there has been so much research with no consensus.

“Here we are 30 years later, and you still have a vacant corridor in most cases,” he said.

Future transportation plans

City Council discussed transportation- planning initiatives at its Nov. 8 meeting.

The city has also been working with Capital Metro for its Project Connect North Corridor Plan, which would connect cities in Williamson County to downtown Austin, and with TxDOT on its Mobility35 plan, which includes improvements to the I-35 corridor.

Polasek said the end of LSRD could affect those other regional plans because the rail line had been written into some plans as a “baseline future condition.”

During the Nov. 8 meeting, Polasek said the city could use a portion of the money marked in the fiscal year 2016-17 budget for LSRD membership dues to help fund a regional transportation study, including Project Connect, Mobility35 and other programs in the region, being completed by the Austin Area Research Organization along with the Texas A&M University Transportation Institute.

“We are going to continue to work with our regional partners and try to find the best solutions for our commuters,” Polasek said.

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