Urban, rural officials differ on high-speed project

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HOUSTON — Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced in August that the city signed a “memorandum of understanding” with Texas Central Partners regarding the high-speed rail project.

“As I shared in my State of Mobility address, Houston needs a paradigm shift — a comprehensive approach to mobility that includes all forms of transportation,” said Turner. “Certainly, a high-speed train to Dallas is a glowing idea among the options, especially when state transportation officials project traffic congestion on Interstate 45 between Houston and Dallas will double by 2035, increasing travel time from about 4 hours to more than 6.5 hours. Simply building more highways is not the answer.”

The announcement came on the heels of the company filing in the Court of Appeals to reverse the ruling by District Judge Albert McCaig. The ruling found in favor of Grimes County, who maintained that affiliates of Texas Central Partners performed “illegal surveys” that “damaged county rights-of-way” on four county roads.

Grimes County Judge Ben Leman, who also is president of Texans Against High-Speed Rail, said that the announcement by Turner comes as “no surprise,” as the city of Houston “has been more than supportive of the project since the beginning.”

“When it comes to elected officials in the city of Houston, they have written letters in support of the project — this document does nothing more than restate what they said they would do previously,” Leman said. “Texas Central is tied up in lawsuits, including the appeal with Grimes County which they seem to believe is something worth appealing because that eminent domain issue is a huge problem, this document with Houston is an attempt to make it sound like something is happening, but there isn’t anything there.”

While Turner and the city of Houston have expressed hopes of working with Texas Central by providing environmental surveys, feasibility studies, designing efficient multi-modal connections and developing a business enterprises program, Leman and opponents of the project have called funding into question.

“Even if Texas Central received approval for every other aspect of the project, it is very clear now that they are not able to raise the money in the private sector and are going after taxpayer backed loans,” said Leman. “The city of Houston has had some very disturbing developments in their efforts to fund their pensions and when push comes to shove the city may be able to work with them and facilitate some development but nothing tangible.”

Tim Keith, president of Texas Central, has praised the city of Houston and is looking forward to moving ahead with the city on the project.

“We are thrilled to partner with the mayor and the city for our shared vision for what this project can be for the Houston region,” said Keith. “We are grateful the mayor has endorsed a major milestone in the plan to bring a state-of-the-art Bullet Train system to our great state.”

As the project continues to find opposition in the rural counties between the end points in Dallas and Houston, Leman said that he doubts the project will gain the traction needed to continue.

“Texas Central is putting the cart before the horse, they have still only raised $75 million in cash of the $16 billion said to be needed for the project and that is a major hurdle,” Leman said. “They are now hoping that the U.S. taxpayer will agree to be on the hook and I don’t think that will be happening.”

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