The Lone Star Rail District died, in the end, with a whimper.
The board of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, after a discussion lasting perhaps five minutes, on a voice vote Monday evening removed from its long-range transportation plan the project for a commuter rail from San Antonio to Georgetown. Of the board members present, only Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea stood by the 13-year-old district and officially abstained from voting.
In a concession to the idea that a rail in the rapidly growing corridor might someday make sense, the board later discussed using some or all of $9 million in leftover money from the project for a feasibility study to explore other possible endeavors along that corridor.
What kind of endeavors? Shea asked.
Well, perhaps a managed toll lane on Interstate 35, CAMPO executive director Ashby Johnson said, or maybe working with Amtrak to increase its twice-a-day service along the corridor on Union Pacific’s freight line. A study, if the CAMPO board authorizes it, would look at those and other options for moving people in the I-35 corridor.
The board could get an opportunity to take that vote as soon as December, Johnson said.
Lone Star’s demise had been a foregone conclusion since the CAMPO board in August voted 17-1 to ask the Texas Department of Transportation to withhold any more funds from the district, which had been overseeing various studies of a possible rail line since 2003 (some occurred before its formation) and spent about $28 million doing so. That August vote brought to a halt an ongoing environmental study of the line.
Supporters of the district argued that stopping that study and removing the rail project from CAMPO’s 2040 plan would delay rail in the Austin-San Antonio corridor “for at least another generation,” as district board chairman Sid Covington said in a statement distributed at the meeting.
But the district, which under the state law allowing its creation lacked the significant taxation authority needed for a project costing $2 billion or more, floundered through the years to get beyond good intentions. Political support for it collapsed completely in February when Union Pacific said that it would no longer discuss allowing the commuter trains to run on its existing freight line. That line cuts through the heart of all the cities involved and thus had been almost the sole focus of study for more than 20 years.