Knight: Funds needed for U.S. 90 railroad overpass project in Dayton coming from grant sources

The railroad crossing on US 90 west of Dayton is so unpopular that people often go to social media to complain about their long waits while the train passes by. The railroad crossing has its own Facebook page and is considered one of the most "tagged" locations in the Dayton area. (File photo)

A project to built a the railroad overpass at US 90 in Dayton is getting a significant financial boost thanks to an approximately $13 million grant from the Texas Freight Advisory Committee. The Houston-Galveston Area Council has already committed $45 million toward the project, according to Liberty County Judge Jay Knight, who serves as an alternate on the H-GAC Transportation Council.

Knight shared the news with commissioners court on Tuesday at the regular commissioners court meeting, held via Zoom and live-streamed to YouTube.

In March 2019, Knight told Bluebonnet News the overall project is expected to cost between $150 million to $200 million for a complete build-out, but he says now the grant money received so far is enough to build the overpass.

Knight asked commissioners to approve a grant application for a third revenue stream for the railroad project from the Federal Railroad Administration.

“This particular grant caters to rural areas. Hallelujah. The available amount is $300 million and we are shooting for $30 million of that. At this point, we just need to approve the railroad grant application,” said Knight, adding that stakeholders in this process include the City of Dayton and Liberty County Rural Rail District 1.

With all four commissioners present at the meeting, the Court authorized the application for the federal grant, which must be submitted by January 2021.

The overpass project is still in the planning stages, which Knight says has been hampered by the coronavirus pandemic. He says meetings with Union Pacific and the Texas Department of Transportation were canceled and have not been reset at this time.

“It’s like a big anchor dropped,” Knight said after the meeting.

Three grants that impact Liberty County’s election process were also discussed by commissioners and Elections Administrator Klint Bush. Bush told the commissioners that Liberty County is eligible for $81,649 from the 2020 Cares Act Grant. The terms of the grant requires the County to match a portion of the grant, which works out to $13,608. The funds for this grant will be used in the upcoming election cycles as the county gears up for more mail-in ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have no idea how much we are going to be inundated by requests. My colleagues across the state are saying they are getting a whole lot more mail-in ballots, so we should probably follow suit,” Bush said.

According to the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission, which administers the 2020 Cares Act Grant, funds must be used “to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus, domestically or internationally, for the 2020 Federal election cycle.” 

Liberty County also qualifies for a $40,000 2018 Elections Security Grant, which requires no match, and a 2020 Elections Grant for $80,000, which requires a 20 percent match from the County. The Elections Security grants must be used to purchase equipment that ties into security and infrastructure related to elections. Bush asked commissioners court to approve both grants with the 2020 Elections Grant funds earmarked to help improve election security through the county’s technology department. The grants were unanimously approved by commissioners.

The County’s plan to preserve the archives in the County Clerk’s Office took a step forward Tuesday with the approval of a contract with Data Preservation Solutions. The company will treat and preserve the records to prevent them from further deterioration.

County Clerk Lee Haidusek Chambers said the contract for the restoration this fiscal year is estimated to cost $200,000, which is being paid for through the collection of fees by the County Clerk’s Office.

“The estimate may be a little low because I think we have $90,000 already and we have been collecting for just two months. I am aiming low. If you read the contract, when they come in and get the books, it will be based on the amount of income that we collected the previous month. It’s month-to-month driven,” she said. “It’s a little harder to manage that way but the $90,000 will be a buffer. We will have a little extra money in there to cover it.”

The process should begin within the next two months, she added.

As the County readies for another budget season, one of the first steps that must be addressed every year are raises for county commissioners and the county judge. Knight said the County is not increasing those salaries this budget cycle.

“With the uncertainty of the economic conditions in the county and the world itself, I think it would be wise for us to keep things as they are,” Knight said.

The commissioners agreed and voted in favor of salaries remaining at their current rate.

Commissioners also approved an amendment to an existing 381 agreement with Colony Ridge Development, LLC, increasing the costs for the project for a law enforcement center that will provide office space for the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office and the Pct. 6 Constable’s Office. The 381 agreement will return a portion of the paid property taxes within an established area to Colony Ridge, LLC, which is paying the upfront costs for the construction of the building.

“This is an amendment that adds some things and corrects some changes. It changes the date when we will pay Colony Ridge back. It changes it to Aug. 31 in one payment for the year. Then there are some minor issues. Some property owned by Colony Ridge in Montgomery county was taken out [of the agreement],” said County Attorney Matthew Poston during the commissioners court meeting. “More substantively, this increases the estimate for the project by $500,000. In the prior first agreement, it was $1 million for construction costs and another $500,000 for furnishings. This increases it to $2 million.”

The increase, Poston explained, came after the sheriff’s office and the constable’s office met with the engineer designing the project. Originally the project was going to have more office space and less space for evidence collection. Those changes, along with reinforcement of the walls, caused the cost of the project to rise.

In other business, commissioners:

  • Approved an agreement with Chambers County to reimburse Liberty County for the salary of one county employee who will lead the two counties as they transition away from a shared probation department. Currently, the two counties share the Liberty-Chambers Counties Community Supervision and Corrections Department.
  • Approved the transfer of two 250-gallon barrels of Isopropanol from the sheriff’s office to Pct. 1 Commissioner Bruce Karbowski. During the pandemic, when hand sanitizer supplies became scarce, Karbowski and his employees led the charge for the County in making hand sanitizer for county employees, first responders, local hospitals and nursing homes. The Isopropanol was donated to the sheriff’s office by Indorama Ventures Oxides, LLC, of Dayton.
  • Approved an interlocal agreement with the City of Kenefick and Pct. 4 Road and Bridge for repairs to CR 645. The City of Kenefick will pay $500 toward the cost of manpower and materials.
  • Approved the reappointment of Don Callens as Liberty County Local Health Authority.
  • Approved the first payment draws to GrantWorks and LJA Engineering for the county’s buyout plan for flood-prone areas.
  • Approved a resolution that will provides the County’s inspection department with the enforcement ability to make contractors properly install culverts.
  • Approved a grant application through the Texas Water Development Board for housing buyouts and infrastructure improvements. These projects would be based off of the lists of critical needs that were previously submitted by the County’s four commissioners.
  • Approved an agreement with the City of Dayton regarding a 24.7788-acre landlocked property near the Pct. 4 dump. To make it easier for the City of Dayton to sell the property to other buyers, the County agreed to a quit claim deed. Once the property is sold, the City of Dayton will distribute half of the sales price to the County.

Liberty County Commissioners Court meets on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month in the County Court at Law Courtroom on the second floor of the Liberty County Courthouse. Meeting times are at 9 a.m. Currently the meetings are being held via Zoom and posted on the County’s YouTube channel, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCb8xervncxOru6q_-aLwxVg

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