Brazoria-Fort Bend Rail District released long-awaited potential segments of the railway, but the feasibility study is not over.
The routes do not follow Highway 36 from Freeport to Rosenberg as some people might have expected, Rail District Executive Director Robert Laza said. They also are based on segments HDR Engineering determined, he said, adding they do not yet show combined routes.
HDR will later determine a preferred route and two alternates based on combinations of the segments, Laza said.
Officials are studying the feasibility of building a rail line to run from Freeport to Highway 59 in Hungerford. Advocates believe it would be more a economical and safer alternative to increased truck traffic as more cargo passes through Port Freeport for distribution elsewhere in the country.
The proposed nodal segments go west and south of Freeport, below Jones Creek, then swing north to pass west of Old Ocean and Danciger, according to the rail district’s map released this week. Some segments extend into Matagorda County south of Sweeny then proceed north through Wharton County before entering Fort Bend County southwest of Rosenberg, the map shows.
The routes were released at a citizens advisory panel meeting for the rail district Wednesday evening, which was not open to the public, he said.
The potential routes added about 12 miles to limit the impact to residents as much as possible, Brazoria County Commissioner David Linder said.
“That didn’t concern me, because I’m more concerned about my constituents,” Linder said.
That was extremely important to him and Fort Bend County Commissioner Vincent Morales, who is also on the citizens advisory panel, he said.
In Linder’s eyes, the railroad might not be feasible at all, he said. If it is, he said, he might not ever see construction in his lifetime, so it’s not time to worry yet, Linder said.
The rail district has to consider environmental impacts, costs and other factors, he said.
“I want the least amount of impact to our citizens and we cannot affect flooding. We already have a big problem,” Linder said.
The National Environ-mental Protection Act lists factors to consider for a project such as the proposed rail line, Laza said. It includes five factors and 22 subfactors, such as cost-effectiveness, environmental impact and safety, he said. The board approved these subfactors in November and the major categories in January, Laza said.
HDR used these to determine the segments, he said.
Wednesday was the first advisory panel meeting and had multiple purposes, Laza said.
It was used to give background on the rail district, get input from members before any routes were shared, show the maps and go from there, he said.
The next step is a public meeting with HDR that will likely be the second week of November, Laza said.
Advisory panel member Rob Giesecke believes landowners have not been “given a fair shake” by the rail district, he said.
The maps confirm what he believed, which is the routes will be more western and extend into Matagorda and Wharton counties, Giesecke said. He said he’s doubtful landowners in those counties have been following the issue to the extent Brazoria County residents have.
If the rail lines are built, they will impact people no matter where where they are located, Linder said. It could already make it difficult to sell the properties near the routes on the released maps, he said.
Linder plans to stand by his constituents in this situation, he said, and if the rail is found not to be feasible, he would like to see the district shelve the issue permanently.