North Flyer Organization|
...Unifying Rail Interests of the Central United States
NEWS FLASH: COLD HARD FACTS REGARDING KANSAS EXPANSION:
INTRODUCTION: The possibility the Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas corridor (TOK-Corridor) will be developed is highly unlikely, at least for the next 10 to 20 years. The region has missed its window. Government claims their hands are tied. The following is offered as evidence:
1) EXECUTIVE PRIVILEGE: Kansas Governor Brownback has shown negativity to the project. As a US Senator he issued this letter to a constituent:
2) EXECUTIVE POLICY: The Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT), is a statutory agency under Governor Brownback's administration, meaning they will defer to his policy. Only veto-proof legislation or a massive campaign to convince the Kansas executive to change his mind will change regional fortunes.
3) HIGHWAYS RULE: The Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) represents a highway-centric industry and culture. The same is true of the other plains states DOTs. The need for passenger rail has not been recognized. Kansas legislative project recognition is tepid at best.
4) HSIPR EXHAUSTED: The High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) program that would fund the TOK-Corridor expansion is now down to its last $1 billion. In 2009 it was provided $8 billion through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Congress provided another $2.4 billion. Approximately $1 billion remains in the program. This $1 billion will exhaust before the end of this new calendar year. The TOK-Corridor project could require half of the remaining national funding.
CURRENT HSIPR FUNDING:
5) LENGTHY TIMELINE: The Parsons-Brinckerhoff Service Development Plan (SDP) completed in early December 2011 shows a minimum six year schedule to complete just the 197 mile expansion to Newton, KS. Note that even if funding for these studies shown was available, it would be two years before the three states could apply for federal matching funding. At that point HSIPR will be an unfunded program.
6) KDOT SINGLE POINT OF CONTACT: The Oklahoma and the Texas Departments of Transportation (ODOT & TxDOT) turned over project initiative to KDOT. In other words, KDOT is driving the project. Again, it will require veto-proof legislation to continue even the study process with Kansas Governor Brownback in office. The next step is an environmental clearance, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This NEPA will be a $500,000 to $1 million study.
7) KANSAS LEGISLATURE-SLOW DELIBERATE: The Kansas legislature will likely consider the SDP in House and Senate Transportation committees this session that begins on January 9. This will be intended to select a simple Heartland Flyer expansion; operation of a second train between Ft. Worth - Oklahoma City - Wichita - Kansas City; or both. Oklahoma and Texas involvement is yet to be determined. My guess is that the decision making process will remain with Kansas legislators, KDOT, ODOT, and TxDOT. Until a unified three state legislative initiative proceeds, the process will be very slow, if moving at all.
8) UNDEFINED PROCESS: Our understanding is that only after an operational decision is made, and NEPA funding is provided, will any further project progress continue. Will Governor Brownback allow this? Will the Kansas legislature challenge Governor Brownback? This has to happen before further progress can occur.
9) MORE STUDIES: FONSI represents 'Finding Of No Significant Impact.' What this entails and the cost is unknown. However; it is another delay in addition to the Preliminary Engineering and Final Design stages which would follow.
10) REALISTICALLY 10 TO 12 YEARS: Even with a supportive government (Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas governors, legislatures, state DOTs) this plan represents more realistically a 10 to 12 year timeline. Many legislative steps remain in this process. The Texas Legislature is a biennial body. They do not meet in 2013. Funding of even the listed studies will be an issue due to regional budget crises. There has to be a better way.
SUMMARY: The negativity in Kansas is being well played by ODOT. By playing hands off, KDOT is allowed to use anti-passenger rail sentiment in the executive branch to slow the process. Needless to say, the Kansas effort needs a champion to take an aggressive position.
Much of the delay has to do with the intensely complex federal grant process. KDOT seems to be using this complex process to study the project into oblivion. Lengthen a study by a month or two; hesitate just long enough within a legislative session and you can drag a process on indefinitely.
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