Kyle needs federal funds for local rail

Safety issues caused by stopped trains in downtown Kyle was the basis of Mayor Travis Mitchell’s case to obtain federal funding for a rail siding relocation project Monday.

Mitchell directed his comments at the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Oragnization (CAMPO) transportation policy board, which held its first hearing on area projects recommended for federal funds for the 2019-2022 period.

The regional transportation planning organization aims to improve mobility in Bastrop, Burnet, Caldwell, Hays, Travis and Williamson counties and ensures an equal distribution of transportation systems.

When trains are stopped across Center Street in Kyle, it creates congestion heading into and leaving the area and effectively blocks off the entire downtown, Mitchell said. Besides causing traffic, it is a “significant safety issue” for first responders responding to calls across the nearby Interstate 35, Mitchell said.

When trains stop across Center Street, first responders must take longer alternate routes to get across, which can increase critical response times.

“It was a problem when we had 2,000 people,” Mitchell said. “Now we are approaching 50,000, with entitlements to reach 100,000 people over the next 20 years. It’s becoming quite severe.”

Mitchell said he chose to address the rail siding relocation to CAMPO himself, as it is a unique project. If approved, it would be one of the only rail siding relocation projects to take place in Texas in 30 or 40 years, according to CAMPO.

Kyle City Manager Scott Sellers said the relocation project would ease downtown congestion and improve safety and mobility.

Sellers said he has seen people try to walk between train cars to get across the tracks, or try to weave their cars between the train gates to try and get across at the last second.

“By moving (the rail siding relocation) away from those crossing, we’ll eliminate those unsafe situations,” Sellers said.

Buda has four projects still in the running, two of which are studies, City Engineer John Nett said.

The two studies would take a look at potential projects such as improving the intersection at FM 1626 and RM 967, and a study into linking the high-growth areas of Buda and South Austin together through connecting FM 1626 and State Highway 45 to I-35, or the Garlic Creek Parkway Corridor.

A project Buda hopes to be approved is a potential bike and hike path trail along Overpass Road from the Old Goforth Road improvements into Downtown Buda, as well as a project to relieve a traffic bottleneck at the FM 967 and Main Street intersection by installing dedicated turn and through lanes.

“We are optimistic about our projects going forward,” Nett said.

But as the deadline for a decision looms, CAMPO board members continued to iron out the details of how they plan to distribute the federal funds.

Several board representatives questioned the fact that about half of the proposed projects funds could be awarded to Travis County. They also questioned the system CAMPO staff used in assigning each project a ranking.

“We’re looking at a six county region as diverse as Central Texas is,” said Chairman Will Conley, who stepped down as a Hays County commissioner in October to run for county judge.

There are always challenges in awarding project funds, he said, as there is only a limited amount of money available.

“You’re always going to have colleagues who need more in their respective jurisdiction than what they are awarded. It’s the nature of the process,” Conley said. “There will be future calls and dollars available.”

The transportation policy board is scheduled to approve projects to receive state and federal funds through CAMPO in early May.

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