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Rail tracks could leave downtown Bryan

Rail tracks could leave downtown Bryan

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Public hearings could be held late this year on a $99 million plan to upgrade the Union Pacific Railroad tracks in Bryan and College Station, officials announced Wednesday.

The proposed project involves building 15 overpasses along a 30-mile stretch from south of Wellborn to north of downtown Bryan. About 10 miles of the project would be new track detouring to the north and west around downtown Bryan. The proposed measure could affect at least 16 homes near Turkey Creek Road, Union Street and Finfeather Road, transportation officials have said.

The project was first proposed in 2000 as a realignment to increase safety around Texas A&M University by shifting the tracks away from the campus. The route now under consideration doesn't move the tracks from A&M.

The plan was discussed Wednesday during a regular monthly meeting of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, a committee composed of representatives from Brazos County, Bryan, College Station, Texas A&M and the Texas Department of Transportation.

A representative from the engineering firm Carter and Burgess, with which the MPO has a $1.13 million contract, provided the update. Tom Shelton said his firm's next step is awaiting approval from the environmental affairs division of TxDOT and the Federal Highway Administration.

Public hearings could be held at the end of the year, but a timeline for implementation has not been set, Shelton said.

Shelton declined after the meeting to discuss homes or businesses that could be affected by the rail extension, saying a route hasn't been finalized.

"We don't know yet how it's going to affect people," he said. "There's a variety of different parts to this. It's 30 miles and approaching $100 million. It's all dependent on funding, and it will probably be done in phases."

About $25 million has been allotted in federal earmarks, but Shelton said it's unclear how the remainder of the plan will be funded.

Sharon Anderson, who lives on Cindy Lane, has been following the plans for the past six years. She said Wednesday that she is concerned about her neighborhood, which is in the area of Finfeather and Turkey Creek roads, west of Carson Street.

"As a member of the housing development that you're planning on coming through, we disagree when you say it doesn't have significant impact," she told MPO committee members during the public comments portion of Wednesday's meeting.

Shelton told The Eagle in 2004 that his firm tried to redesign the route away from the residential area, but efforts were abandoned after months of consulting with Union Pacific Railroad, which owns the tracks.

Shelton said Wednesday the primary reasons for the upgrades and track extension are to improve safety and alleviate traffic congestion in the area.

"You've got 100-car-long trains coming through town each day, and you've got people sitting there waiting for them to pass," Shelton said, explaining that the planned overpasses, also known as grade separations, are recommended to take the roadway over the railroad tracks.

Anderson said she understands the reasons for the plan but doesn't see why it can't be done without disrupting people's lives.

"If you put railroad tracks right in front of someone's house, [the home] is not livable and it's not sellable," she said after the meeting. "How do you expect senior citizens to have to move out of a house that's paid for? They're too old to deal with a mortgage. You've put them on poverty row."

Anderson said she's also concerned that while the state transportation department might buy out residents whose homes have to be demolished, others in the neighborhood might be overlooked.

"If that train touches your property, they buy you out; but if it goes right in front of it, you don't get compensated," Anderson said. "You could probably describe that as living hell."

• April Avison's e-mail address is april.avison@theeagle.com.

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