Sunday, January 27, 2008

Fort Bend To Get a “Rail Bypass”?

It sounds almost surgical, but what a “rail bypass” really is, is maybe something to alleviate the 40 to 60 (and on the increase) freight trains per day that tie up traffic and delay the morning drives of thousands of Fort Bend County commuters every week.

I remember when this first came to my (and others’) attention. It was at a Nick Lampson “Neighborhood Office Hours” meeting in Richmond, last July.

From that posting:

“There was lots and lots of discussion on transportation issues. One question had to do with light rail to Houston. It opened up a can of worms. First, that the existing railroad line that runs right through Richmond was going to have increased traffic due to the purchase and construction of two container offloading sites in western Rosenberg. Railroad traffic, already around 60 trains per day, is expected to double and the truck traffic between Rosenberg and US 59 is expected to be heavy. Lots of infrastructure issues.”

“Nick also mentioned a proposal to reroute the rail line so that it bypassed populated areas, but that the railroad companies would probably need federal ‘inducement’.”

And now it seems we are a little further along. While in July I had the distinct impression that people were thinking about a northerly bypass (I don’t know, maybe the way everyone was waving their hands), it now seems to be that if a bypass is built to avoid the heavily populated areas of Fort Bend County, it will be through the southern part of the county, with the bypass beginning in the Rosenberg area, then southward, bending to the east, and then north to link up again in Houston.

I am wondering now, what this means for the container onload/offload sites that are in the planning stages for the Triple Forks Area west of Rosenberg. It is my speculation now that maybe since TxDOT’s plans for expansion of State Highway 36 to accommodate container truck traffic to that area are moot, maybe instead of bringing trucks to the rails, they plan to bring rails to the trucks.

Congressman Nick Lampson (D - Stafford) seems to have gone further along on this, because there is now a mile figure being batted around – an additional 36 miles of total distance traveled to cover the same change in longitude, and a cash figure: $880 million. A cost that Lampson says will be prohibitive unless the Feds kick in some dough.

Upside. Rail traffic through heavily populated areas of southwestern suburban Houston will be cut to almost nothing. Also consider another thing that was batted around at that meeting last July: maybe the Highway 90 corridor could be adapted to a light rail Houston to suburbs commuter system.

Downside: Apparently County Judge Bob Hebert is all in favor of this, and the County Commissioners have allocated 250 large to “study the project.” This must mean that someone smells a buck. If not the group that will study the project for the cool quarter mil, then maybe something else.

“It ain’t gonna happen”, says Precinct 1 Commissioner Tom Stavinoha. Unless . . .

Unless somehow, by some Machiavellian sleight of hand we can somehow work in Stavinoha’s pet project, the much-discussed expansion of the Grand Parkway. Yes, somehow Commissioner Stavinoha envisions how having a toll road through cotton fields is congruent with plans to have a freight train route through same. The former, by the way, is the road project that will probably end up costing Stavinoha dearly, in one election or another this year.

As you can see, nothing changes here in kleptocratic Fort Bend County.

Maybe someday, and this is just a distant dream of mine, maybe someday some decisions will be made in this county based on what is good for the people.


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