Tuesday, September 23, 2014
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OWLS oppose proposed commuter rail line

Under public forum during Tuesday’s Hidalgo County Commissioners Court meeting, OWLS (Objective Watchers of the Legal System) representative Frank Travers asked the county to withdraw its support from the proposed Hidalgo County Commuter Rail District. The HCCRD was to have a meeting on Wednesday, May 8, which included an agenda item “relating to creation of a regional transit authority, and granting the power of eminent domain, providing authority to impose a tax and issue bonds for the HCCRD.”

Travers said the research he continues to do show there are no effective rail districts operating in the United States. He further stated the Valley had no high-rise business district like those in New York and Chicago were many people take trains to work daily.

Most people do not live in Mission and work in Brownsville, and do not need a commuter train to take them there. They live closer to their workplace. What would happen to quality of life in Brownsville if there were a commuter trains running all day through the city tying up traffic? he asked.

The plan does not address the need for transportation to get people from colonias around the Valley to the train to go to work. If implemented, people would pay to park their cars near the train station, pay to ride the train, and pay again to ride back to their cars to go home. It is simpler just to drive their vehicles to work.

OWL Jim Barnes said a preliminary study showed it would take a minimum of $1 million per mile to get the railroad tracks in shape to accommodate commuter trains. He said the HCCRD is not an elected board but it is being given a great deal of authority to create something that is likely to be a large tax increase for already heavily burdened taxpayers in Hidalgo County.

Later, Travers clarified the cost by saying in some areas the rail bed would have to be replaced and new tracks laid. Where that happened the cost per mile could be several million. That does not include the cost of overpasses needed in some areas to keep traffic flowing if commuter trains were running on a tight schedule, or any of the other things needed to make the rail system work.

Barnes said one possibility mentioned for paying for the railroad is a sales tax for Hidalgo and Cameron Counties. He questioned whether Mexican shoppers might opt for Laredo or other counties further north that did not have the higher sales tax.

Barnes said the Metro Bus line is a better option, as it parallels the railroad and has routes that could pick up persons living far from the railroad line as well. Using rail lines as transportation is an antiquated idea, he stated.

OWL Virginia Townsend spoke against approving anything that would create another taxing entity for residents. She said she has received calls reminding her of how South Texas College was just going to cost a small amount but now it is a taxing entity and costs more than was ever projected. Hidalgo County does not need a rail line, she emphasized.

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