The Chron picks up the ball.
In a blog post for Off the Kuff, a local progressive politics blog, former Fort Bend Democratic Party chairman Steve Brown said now is the time for local officials to form a commuter rail district. Under state law, the district, if formed, could work with Metro to develop the line and apply for grant funding.
“Adding a commuter rail district would ensure better local accountability and avail us to more options to secure private investment, issue revenue bonds or even impose taxes to finance this project,” Brown said.
Rail districts are not unique to the Houston area. The Gulf Coast Rail District – which spans a large part of the Houston region – has a host of freight and passenger rail projects in mind, though it lacks funding for many of its major projects. Gulf Coast is already empowered to act as a commuter rail district, said its executive director, Maureen Crocker.
In fact, Crocker said, Gulf Coast is preparing for more study of a freight rail bypass in the same rail corridor around U.S. 90A that Metro is exploring for its rail line. The freight bypass could make commuter rail along the tracks more likely, as it could address concerns by freight haulers that passenger trains would delay their operations.
Though a regional rail district has a role, Brown said he envisions Metro working with a more focused commuter rail district to develop the 90A line.
“I feel pretty strongly that empowering an entity comprised of local Fort Bend community and business leaders to take the lead on this project is the only way to ensure that it happens,” he said.
Importantly, a dedicated district could be a conduit to increased state investment, he said.
Always happy to help move the conversation along. I’m also happy to have the Gulf Coast Rail District involved, whether as the lead entity or as a component. Whoever is at the rein, let’s get started on a vision for where this line ought to go, and what action is needed by the Legislature to facilitate it. State a vision, get stakeholders behind it, and let’s get moving.