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Urban, rural parts of Texas draw further apart on high speed rail

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Photo by Anthony Eason
high speed rail

Editors note: The article has been tweaked from it’s original text for clarity.

 

The heated debate to build a high-speed rail in Texas continues for groups on both sides of the divide, as a major Texas city newspaper editorialized in favor of the project and the Brazos Valley Council of Governments reversed its previous stance and now stands opposed to the idea.

The Dallas Morning News published an editorial mid-March stating Texans Against High Speed Rail has lost momentum in its opposition against a proposed high-speed rail line that would link Dallas and Houston. A few days before the editorial, the Brazos Valley City of Governments — an agency composed of voting members from Brazos, Burleson, Grimes, Leon, Madison, Robertson and Washington counties — passed a resolution that countered it’s previous support.

The editorial and resolution highlight how the rail’s proposal has divided Texas’ urban and rural communities. But while both sides continue to argue over the pros and cons of the rail, the rail itself continues to quietly prepare for the results of a government environmental review, whose results later this year will decide whether the project can proceed with construction.

The DMN editorial highlighted a major ongoing issue — the right to take private land for public use. Texas Central Partners, the group building the high speed rail, said this may not be an issue after all.

“Yes, eminent domain is an option, but depending on the route, may not even be necessary,” the editorial stated. “Texas Central plans to use existing railroad and highway right of way, where possible, and purchase land from about 1,000 landowners at fair prices.”

Ben Leman, Grimes County judge and chairman for Texans Against High Speed Rail, disagreed. He said the rail does not meet the criteria necessary for it to take advantage of eminent domain law, despite what Texas Central has asserted.

“[The rail] would require brand new rights of way alongside existing rights of way,” Leman said. The problem with a project of this nature utilizing eminent domain is that it does not reach the threshold of public benefit long established in the state of Texas by transmission lines, roads and pipelines. All aspects of society benefit every day in a major way from those other examples I just mentioned.”

Another major topic in the back-and-forth discussion is the estimated economic gains. Texas Central said the rail will help boost the state’s economy, creating jobs and putting money back into the communities.

“According to an independent analysis, the high-speed rail will have a $36 billion economic impact over 25 years and will pay $2.5 billion in taxes to state, counties and local governments,” Texas Central said. “The $10 billion project is a job creator, providing 10,000 jobs a year during the four-year construction phase and an additional 1,000 jobs, once the train is in operation.”

Leman said while he and Texans Against High Speed Rail want to review the studies that produced Texas Central’s numbers, the real danger lies in what happens if Texas Central defaults on any loans it may need to build the rail without government money. Leman said taxpayers would shoulder the financial failure if the rail fell through — a statement Texas Central denies, pointing to the fact that only private money is involved.

The Federal Railroad Administration is in the process of performing an environmental study to evaluate the rail’s path and is expected to be released later this year. TCP said the rail will alleviate congestion on Texas’s roads and provide another form of transportation for citizens.
“The all-electric high-speed rail system will cut transportation-related carbon emissions while reducing traffic congestion and relieving strain on Texas infrastructure,” TCP said. “This innovative project is a safe, reliable and productive solution for Texas travelers commuting between North Texas and Houston.”
Leman said he opposes the rail because of the possible use of eminent domain, and because he thinks the cost of a rail ticket might be too high to allow the average citizen to use it. Texas Central has not released numbers on what a ticket might cost, but said the tickets would be competitive in pricing.
“The power of eminent domain is not granted based on how many jobs or taxes are generated by a company,” Leman said. “The only aspect of society that would utilize high speed rail in any significant numbers is the elite business class. We stand firm opposing this project on the basis that eminent domain is not intended for a project of this nature.”

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