By Moses Leos III
Becoming part of the Lone Star Rail district (LSTAR), a proposed 118-mile passenger rail system that will run from Georgetown to San Antonio, could be a reality for Buda.
Joe Black, Rail Director for LSTAR, made a presentation at the May 20 city council meeting, providing input on what the service could do for Buda.
“[LSTAR officials] answered all of my questions,” Mayor Todd Ruge said. “I have far fewer concerns than before.”
The council unanimously decided to move forward with an economic impact study to further evaluate the service.
Black deemed the service a “backbone for commuter rail” in Central Texas; an area which is expected to have a population of three million people by 2035.
“It’s congestion proof. It runs exclusively on the right of way,” Black told the council of the commuter rail system. “It provides access to downtowns, and it makes time available for other activities.”
Questions from council members included funding sources and a station location.
According to Black, LSTAR’s Buda station would be in an area close to downtown. One theory would be to use city hall as a station, should Buda relocate to an additional structure via their facilities plan.
Ruge felt the move could be “advantageous” due to the potential for development.
“[That] location…would be advantageous to city and to the riders,” Ruge said. “The one thing we would have to look at is parking.”
Funding would come from an inter-local agreement between LSTAR and Buda. LSTAR has already secured agreements with Austin, San Marcos and Kyle.
The district would institute a Tax Infrastructure Zone (TIZ) around each station. Under the TIZ, LSTAR would only collect revenue on new growth. In addition, the TIZ would not impact city revenues, or add an additional tax. Under the TIZ, LSTAR would collect 50 percent of new growth within a one-half mile radius of the platform – a similar agreement the district has with Austin and San Marcos, and one they are working with Kyle.
That would last for a total of 36 years, with an option to extend it an additional 20.
Black said the only difference would be an increase in property values for areas near the station.
A portion of the revenue from the TIZ would go toward operations and maintenance (O & M) for the LSTAR station and rail. The city would also deposit a portion of the funds into an escrow account, where LSTAR must meet a series of guidelines before they receive any money.
One of the parameters is ensuring LSTAR can secure funding agreements from Austin, San Marcos, Hays and Travis Counties — a measure the district must accomplish in two years.
The second stems from an agreement to relocate the Union Pacific railway — a move that would directly affect Buda.
LSTAR would build a new freight bypass line near SH 130.
Council member Angela Kennedy was pleased at the developments.
“I don’t think we could have heard anything better,” she said.
Council members asked what Buda would have to pay.
Nothing, according to Black, who said the city would have to reach a population of 18,000 before paying a nearly $50,000 fee to join LSTAR.
“It’s going to be two or three years before we hit that level,” Ruge said. “It could be a positive thing for the city. Until we hit that threshold, it won’t cost the city a dime.”
While LSTAR isn’t popular with all residents, some feel it could be an asset. Ten year resident Margaret Stanford believes LSTAR could be the sole option to lessen traffic woes.
“We’ve been praying for (SH 45 southwest),” Stanford said. “If that doesn’t happen, I’m thinking [LSTAR] may be the only answer right now.”