Not much funding hope at this time

Libby and I always enjoy seeing so many friends at Founder’s Day. Each year Kyle seems to be a little bigger with so much more traffic. This year, after the parade, we toured the well restored old depot and met with Kyle officials to discuss the disruptive impact of Union Pacific trains parked on the siding across Center Street. 

I saw so many folks waiting too long because of an idling train. And much more than wasted time is at stake if someone encounters a health care emergency during the many times the train will not get out of the way. Additionally, I heard about the dangers created when some drivers try to circumvent the crossing arms. 

After our meeting, I immediately began exploring every possibility for any federal support to supplement Hays County bond funding to rectify this unreasonable situation. Congress created a Rail Line Relocation and Improvement Program to address this type of problem. Unfortunately, the first year after Republicans gained a Congressional majority, they cut funding for this program in half. Thus, while we passed legislation, we remain at an impasse.

Nor is this Congressional Republican refusal to support significant transportation improvements limited to rails; it extends to the highways and bridges to which Center Street connects. Some may refer to I-35 as a freeway, but it certainly cannot be maintained and improved for free.

Based on my investigation, I have candidly advised the City that any prompt federal assistance is unlikely. In short, there is no federal help because my Republican colleagues refuse to pay for it. I want to give credit where credit is due, but unfortunately this is the standstill we confront. Partisanship must not get in the way of resolving this problem. But neither can we rebuild our infrastructure with fairy dust and wishing it were so. It takes the willingness to make the investment and pay for it.

It was not always that way. The federal transportation act, which funds our roadways, railways, and all types of transportation, has traditionally been approved with strong bipartisan support. This spending is an investment we make in ourselves, boosting our economy, safety, and quality of life. At the local level in Kyle and Hays County, transportation remains a bipartisan issue.

Yet the most recent effort to reauthorize federal funding ran headlong into ideological opposition. Republicans in Congress actually sought to extend this funding by suspending six-day mail delivery and objected to the revenue measures necessary to improve our transportation system. After much delay and 33 emergency short-term extensions, we finally secured agreement from Republicans for a little additional funding to permit our transportation system to limp along for a few more years.

Next month, we will consider implementing the transportation provisions for rail as part of an omnibus appropriations act. But the amount of money being considered is totally inadequate to address the rail issues in Kyle and across America. Union Pacific now claims that it will cost about $13 million to end the road blockage in Kyle, yet this proposed bill will not provide more than $25-50 million for the entire country. Kyle is great, but we cannot expect to be the biggest recipient of this modest fund.   

Until we get real change in what has been a do-little Congress so that we can begin solving problems instead of just dodging them, Kyle families will be waiting for the train and waiting on I-35 and along our other transportation arteries. To get any relief, local governments are forced to take up the burden to accomplish what the state and federal governments have not. An inability to move legislation in Washington has led to an inability to move in Kyle. Next year, with some real change – a President who puts transportation at the top of the agenda and some new reinforcements in Congress, I hope we can get everybody moving again. 

 

Lloyd Doggett (D) has represented the Austin area since 1995.

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