San Marcos is one step closer to becoming a future stop on the Lone Star Rail District after city councilmembers signed a funding agreement for the passenger rail service during their Dec. 17 meeting.
The rail project is expected to provide transport from Georgetown to South San Antonio. Councilman John Thomaides, Place 3, said the contract will set up a mechanism to help save funding needed to begin construction on the project, even though trains on the Lone Star Rail District are not expected to run until 2019. An environmental study expected to be conducted later this year will help better determine the total amount of funding San Marcos officials will need to raise for the project.
Both geographical boundaries and commitments from other cities are contributing factors for funding on the project. Alison Schulze, senior planner for the Lone Star Rail District, said the environmental study planned to take place later this year will determine which additional cities could commit to joining the project.
Schulze said San Marcos is the first to commit to an inter-local funding agreement and expressed her excitement for the city’s willingness to take part in such a massive and important project.
Schulze described the project as a rail line running through the heart of communities along Interstate Highway 35. The Lone Star Rail provides options and choices for San Marcos residents. She hopes the rail line owned by Union Pacific will serve as a “starting line” for the company that will later branch into extensions of the existing rail.
“Offering options for people who would choose mass transit and rail would eliminate much of the vehicular traffic from the thoroughfares,” said Councilwoman Lisa Prewitt, Place 1, in an email. “I want to be a pro-active leader in this region to make sure we are planning for the future generations.”
In addition to Austin and San Marcos, officials in San Antonio, Round Rock and Georgetown have discussed funding initiatives. Schulze mentioned Hutto and Taylor, along with Kyle and Travis County, describing them as being in “various stages of negotiation.”
“The idea is the addition of the commuter rail will be the leading factor that will increase the tax revenue in this area, so a portion of that revenue increase will go toward funding the rail station and operational costs,” Prewitt said.
Prewitt said she believes the project could be a large factor in the economic success while allowing the city a competitive edge.
The funding agreement intends to capture and increase tax evaluations in relation to the passenger rail’s projected location. Prewitt said city officials can decide whether to contribute up to 50 percent of the tax increment in the part of the rail zone including San Marcos by July 1, 2014.
While city councilmembers approve of San Marcos’ role in the project, they want to remain prepared for any opposition involved with commuter rail, Prewitt said. Signing the funding agreement was the first step to providing the passenger trains intended to reduce congestion and offer more transportation options for the community.