This week’s council session dealt with several interesting issues, the chief of which (to me) was whether or not to spend $270,000 kick starting the city’s plans to finally relocate Union Pacific’s rail siding away from downtown. We also discussed videos on LED billboards, took the next step in creating a stormwater utility, and appointed two new members to the Planning and Zoning Commission, among other things. You can read the agenda here and watch us deliberate via video here. I’m devoting this entire article on the rail siding relocation.
Kyle has a train problem. A big, noisy, road-blocking train problem. Multiple times per day, the Union Pacific Railroad stops in downtown Kyle directly across Center Street. STOPS! Oftentimes the train will park for thirty minutes or more waiting for another train to pass. My wife and I joke that there’s time for an oil change at 4-Way Auto Shop while waiting.
Train stoppage has been a problem in Kyle for decades.
So, why haven’t we done anything about it?
The short answer is it’s a simple solution but not a cheap one and Union Pacific will contribute exactly $0 to help. After all, it’s not their problem. We must pay for the siding relocation ourselves, and that isn’t cheap. Recent projections estimate the total cost to be somewhere between $10 and $15 million dollars. That’s a MASSIVE amount of money just to lay a mile of track. To give you some perspective, our new wastewater treatment plant is going to cost about $17 million. It boggles my mind how the cost of a new treatment plant is similar to the cost of a mile or so of track. The reason we cannot give a firm number on the siding relocation cost is because we have not conducted the engineering necessary to get clear on what the project requires. And that’s where the $270,000 before us comes into play.
As of recently, we have a chance to partner with the county, state, and federal government to fix this issue once and for all. But it will require an upfront investment from the City of Kyle. Federal, state, and county funding requires a shovel-ready project. For this project to be shovel ready, we need to spend money on the preliminary engineering. If we spend the money, we have a marginal chance to secure the funds to fix the problem. If we don’t spend the money, we have ZERO chance. Furthermore, the opportunity for those dollars is now, not later.
Here’s a little more about the funding sources.
- First is Hays County’s Bond Proposition 2 on the ballot for Nov 8th. The bond combines two dozen road projects and totals over $130 million dollars. One of those projects is $1.5 million towards the siding relocation project. Regardless of how you feel about the bond, if it passes Kyle will receive matching funding from the county for the rail siding relocation.
- Second is the federal transportation act, which has dollars set aside for projects just like the siding relocation in Kyle. Tapping into this fund will require Kyle to make a strong case. We’ll need to know exactly what the project will cost and be willing to demonstrate sound reasoning to pull down the dollars. A few weeks ago, Congressman Lloyd Doggett met with a few of my colleagues to discuss the proposal. He later wrote an article in the Hays Free Press blaming partisanship for why funding will likely never come to Kyle from Washington. Clearly, we have work to do on that end because the desire to relocate the rail siding in Kyle receives strong bipartisan support on the local level. And just because Washington probably won’t pay for all of it doesn’t mean we cannot get them to help pay for some of it.
- Third is a state appropriation coming out of the next legislative session which begins Jan 10. If we can give our state senator and our state representative a dollar amount, there is a possibility of securing funding to that end. State Senator Donna Campbell is aware of the problem and reached out to our mayor about finding a way to alleviate the problem. No promises have been made, of course, but we know there is interest in finding state dollars.
And that leaves us, the City of Kyle, to demonstrate that we have skin in the game and are willing to jump-start this project. The $270,000 necessary to spend for pre-engineering is a MUST if we are to ever hope for a day when trains don’t take naps across Center Street.
We postponed the vote on this measure on Nov 1 until the county bond is decided. But either way, if this proposal comes back to the council on Nov 15th, I intend to give it my full support. If you have questions or comments, now is the time to express them.