By Vanesa Brashier, firstname.lastname@example.org
Relief is just a few years away for motorists frustrated by long waits at the railroad crossing west of Dayton on US 90. On Friday, March 22, the Houston-Galveston Area Council approved $46 million in funding for a railroad overpass. Liberty County Judge Jay Knight estimates the project will take at least 3-4 years to complete.
“This was the first step in many to go. The project will probably be complete around the same time that the Grand Parkway in Dayton is open,” Knight said.
Knight, an alternate for Liberty County on the H-GAC Transportation Council, said county officials have fought long and hard for the overpass project with either the judge or one of the commissioners attending nearly every transportation committee meeting with the county’s designated representative, David Douglas, head of the county’s engineering department.
Knight was there Friday when the vote was taken to approve the project.
“I was one of three county judges who showed up today,” Knight said. “There was a little bit of a battle over which projects would be funded. Some counties received no funding at all for their transportation projects. We had two of 13 projects approved, the railroad overpass being the main one.”
On Tuesday, Knight told Bluebonnet News that he felt confident the project would pass, due in part to the support it has from county, state and federal officials, and the benefit it would bring to Union Pacific and BNSF railroads.
“It is a good deal all around,” he said. “The railroad’s participation will be at their discretion but I’ve found Union Pacific and BNSF to be very helpful and easy to deal with regarding projects like this.”
The overall project is expected to cost somewhere between $150-200 million, though engineering and design plans by the Texas Department of Transportation will establish a firm number, Knight said.
“It’s tough to say what an overpass will cost. This particular overpass is actually four overpasses – two on each side,” he said.
The judge said the state’s Transportation and Freight Committee promised another $60 million in funding for the overpass about 18 months ago.
“If we have that, in fact, then we will have more than $100 million toward the project,” he said. “We will be looking to see if there is a state match and what the railroad can offer for the project. I also anticipate that the county will be asking the Rural Rail District to help with this.”
The railroad crossing will be moved further west, somewhere between Waco Street and the Grand Parkway. According to Knight, the railroads plan to create a Y-shaped design on the north side of the road with one line traveling east and another traveling west. Each crossing is considered an overpass, making up a total of four overpasses.
Knight said Liberty County is fortunate to have had the guidance and support of its state and federal elected officials, particularly State Senator Robert Nichols, State Rep. Ernest Bailes and U.S. Rep. Brian Babin.
“This process for the overpass has been going on for three years. The first meeting we had about it was with State Senator Robert Nichols and Rep. Ernest Bailes. In discussing it with them, they suggested the county take the lead because it’s not just a transportation project, it’s an economic development project,” Knight said.
Dayton City Manager Theo Melancon offered praise for county officials in working to secure the project.
“I believe this is a testament to years of hard work from local, regional and state officials. This funding commitment goes a long way toward finding a solution to the problems facing us on Highway 90, connecting Dayton to Houston and the Grand Parkway,” he said. “The City of Dayton will be a partner in any way we can to facilitate the completion of this project.”
With the railroad an essential part of the city’s Gulf-Inland tax increment reinvestment zone, Melancon is familiar with working with the railroads and believes they will be good partners on the project.
“They understand their business model requires them to work and cooperate with their business vendors and local governments to ensure their products get where they need to go in a timely manner. This is a good way to ensure their business continues to thrive well into the future,” Melancon said.
After learning of the county’s success with H-GAC funding, U.S. Rep. Brian Babin offered his congratulations.
“I am pleased to hear the project to put an overpass across the railroad tracks on U.S. 90 in Dayton has advanced another step this morning when H-GAC allocated $46 million dollars to the project. The proposed overpass will be instrumental in alleviating a tremendous traffic chokepoint in the area,” he said.
“I applaud the efforts of local, county, and state leaders for working with the railroad companies and all stakeholders in this project. It has been a group effort. As a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the U.S. House, and member of both the Railroads and Highways subcommittees, I fully support this project, and I am committed to doing whatever I can to assist our local stakeholders. This is a big step in a complex process, but I believe we are on ‘the right track.'” Babin added.