It turns out that Keith Laughlin’s prediction about the West Rail Corridor was correct.
In town in late 2016 to promote the West Rail Trail, Laughlin, who at the time was president and CEO of the national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, said the standoff between the city of Brownsville and Cameron County over what to do with the corridor wouldn’t last forever.
When Union Pacific Railroad pulled its tracks out of West Brownsville in 2016 once a new international rail bridge had been constructed, ownership of the former rail corridor went to the county. Redevelopment of the corridor was delayed, however, amid disagreements over what to do with it.
In one corner, you had those who wanted the 8-mile corridor to be redeveloped into a hike-and-bike trail only. In the opposite were those who envisioned a road where the tracks had been.
What came to pass on Tuesday was a product of the spirit of compromise.
County commissioners in the morning approved a Memorandum of Understanding with the city illuminating a cooperative path forward on redeveloping the corridor. Tuesday evening, city commissioners voted to approve the same MOU. The votes follow an August 2017 resolution whereby the two entities agreed to work together on issues related to the corridor project.
City Commissioner-at-Large “B” Rose Gowen called the MOU a “huge deal,” one that comes after a lot of hard work and input from private citizens, elected officials and business interests.
According to the agreement, the rail corridor will be redeveloped as hike-and-bike trail only except for two miles between Ruben Torres and Alton Gloor boulevards, which will feature a road in addition to a trail separate from the road, both of which will allow access to a planned, mixed-use commercial development.
The MOU stipulates that the city will be responsible for designing the trail segment and the county will be in charge of designing the road segment. Gowen stressed that residents of the community will also be part of the planning process to a substantial degree.
“It is a win-win,” she said of the agreement. “The reason I say that is, it is the first time in over 10 years that we have successfully protected certain parts of that corridor for trail-only use. Until now there has been no protection, no guarantee that any of the corridor would be a trail, because the corridor technically belongs to the county.”
The next step is an environmental study in accordance with the National Environmental Protection Act.
County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr. said coming to an agreement took a while but that the county feels good about the MOU terms and looks forward to starting the environmental review process.
“We’ve been going back and forth on a couple of different issues,” he said. “I think we finally addressed those concerns and we’re ready to move forward to do something with the project that we’ve been wanting to do for quite a while.”
Trevino said the agreement is the result of “reasonable minds” working together toward the common goal of serving constituents.
“Sometimes some of these things take a little longer than you would have liked, but we’re here now, and that’s what’s important,” he said.
Laughlin said in 2016 that in his experience it wasn’t unusual for disagreements to arise over how to best redevelop railroad corridor once they’ve been decommissioned.
“That’s something that takes time and it takes dialogue,” he said. “With time that will be resolved.”