End of the line: CAMPO halts Lone Star Rail project plans

The transportation policy board for the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization voted Oct. 17 to remove Lone Star Rail from its 2040 long-range plan, effectively halting planning efforts.

The transportation policy board for the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization voted Oct. 17 to remove Lone Star Rail from its 2040 long-range plan, effectively halting planning efforts.

With a unanimous vote tonight, a Central Texas transportation agency approved removing Lone Star Rail from its long-range plan, effectively halting planning of the regional rail project that would have run between San Antonio, Austin and Georgetown.

On Aug. 8 the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization transportation policy board, which is comprised of local elected officials, approved initiating steps to conclude the environmental impact statement, or EIS, cease funding and remove the $2.09 billion plan for the Lone Star Rail District from CAMPO’s 2040 long-range transportation plan.

Monday’s vote was the final step to end the project.

No unanimous support

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 to a new line to be built east of I-35.

CAMPO officials met with LSRD in the spring to see if there were any other viable routes, but board members expressed concern about a lack of progress in the project despite spending $30 million in state and federal funds.

In a letter sent to CAMPO board members Oct. 14, Sid Covington expressed his dissatisfaction in CAMPO’s decision to stop the project. He said the decision would delay commuter rail between Austin and San Antonio for another generation.

“No alternative to the Lone Star Rail line has been proposed, suggested or even considered,” he wrote. “Sure, the Lone Star Rail project has taken longer than anyone would have liked. And yes, Union Pacific’s withdrawal poses a challenge. But wise public officials know that great cities do great things, and no great thing was ever achieved without overcoming challenges.”

Public comments received included 14 contacts supporting Lone Star Rail and two residents who favored removing the rail line from the long-range plan. CAMPO’s technical advisory committee, comprised of transportation staffers from CAMPO’s six-county region, also voted Sept. 28 to keep Lone Star Rail in the 2040 plan until a suitable alternative for regional transportation could be found.

Renewed efforts for regional planning

About $9 million in federal funds awarded to CAMPO in 2009 for Lone Star Rail planning remain. Some CAMPO board members have suggested reallocating that money on a new multimodal corridor planning study between Austin and San Antonio.

“Moving forward with this effort is absolutely critical,” said Ann Kitchen, Austin City Council Member and CAMPO policy board member. “It gives the intention to find best possible approach between our respective communities.”

CAMPO Executive Director Ashby Johnson said other multimodal options in the region could include adding managed lanes on I-35, which the Texas Department of Transportation is studying.

“We’re working with Amtrak to increase service in that corridor,” he said. “They would run more frequent service. That could be a stop gap.”

A decision on the reallocation of the $9 million could occur by January, he said.

CAMPO officials have also continued conversations with officials from TxDOT, Lone Star Rail, Union Pacific and the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization since August.

“It is clear that we need viable mass transit between San Antonio and Austin,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler, who also sits on the CAMPO policy board, in a news release. “The way we’re continuing forward seems to be a more direct path than continuing with Lone Star.”
By Amy Denney

Managing Editor, Austin metro

Amy has worked for Community Impact Newspaper since September 2010, serving as reporter and senior editor for the Northwest Austin edition as well as covering transportation in the Austin metro. She is now managing editor for the 10 publications in the Central Texas area from Georgetown to New Braunfels. She enjoys spending time with her husband, son and two cats.