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Feds give OK for Fort Worth TEX Rail commuter train project

Star-Telegram

The proposed TEX Rail commuter train project has reached yet another milestone that supporters say will help ensure the rail line is operating by late 2018.

Those working on the proposed 27-mile commuter line from downtown Fort Worth to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport’s Terminal B said Monday that they received a “letter of no prejudice” from the Federal Transit Administration. The letter serves as an assurance that, even though the federal agency’s hasn’t yet given the project full funding, local authorities can spend their money on the project and get reimbursed.

“This gives us the authority to proceed with procurement of all the materials for our guideway and stations … including locking in material pricing,” said Paul Ballard, president of the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, which is overseeing the project. “That’s important because some of the prices are going up. We know steel is going up. This allows us to build the stations, tracks, signals, bridges, everything.”

This allows us to build the stations, tracks, signals, bridges, everything.

Paul Ballard, Fort Worth Transportation Authority president

The federal letter doesn’t specify a dollar amount but in effect gives the transportation authority permission to spend up to $499 million, including a 5 percent contingency, he said. Later this year, the Federal Transit Administration could issue a “full funding grant agreement,” which is a more formal promise to reimburse the agencies building TEX Rail for local expenditures.

The $499 million is a little less than half the expected $1.034 billion cost of the project. Local funds, including sales tax proceeds from Fort Worth and Grapevine, will make up a large portion of the local contribution, as will funds from Tarrant County. North Richland Hills plans to open two stations along the TEX Rail line and has also pledged funds to the project.

Residents can expect to see preliminary construction, including the clearing of land around stations and railroad tracks, beginning in July, said Bob Baulsir, agency vice president of rail and procurement.

Critics of TEX Rail — predominately residents of Colleyville — have said they would consider trying to stop TEX Rail during the upcoming legislative session, which begins in January in Austin. However, such opposition would be unlikely if the project were already under construction.

Cities, counties and states have little control over railroad tracks, which are protected nationwide by federal interstate commerce laws. Also, Colleyville isn’t a member of the Fort Worth Transportation Authority and doesn’t have a voice when the agency’s board makes decisions about commuter rail or other transit projects.

Colleyville was originally scheduled to have a station on the TEX Rail line, but planners removed the station from the project plan after Colleyville residents voiced opposition. However, trains will still pass through Colleyville without stopping.

Gordon Dickson: 817-390-7796, @gdickson

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