The public comment period for the Texas high-speed rail project just came to a close and one thing is for sure; Texans seem overwhelmingly opposed to the proposed Dallas to Houston high-speed bullet train.
During the last two months, Texans from all walks of life have come forward at public hearings to express a variety of public safety, accessibility and financial concerns surrounding the project. The Federal Railroad administration, which solicited the feedback from the community, has pledged to look into these concerns and include them in their final environmental impact statement expected later this year.
Much of the apprehension surrounding the project has arisen from a perceived disconnect between promises made by Texas Center Partners, the developer of the project, and a reality that the surrounding communities believe to be very different.
Take public safety for starters. Texas Central Partners asserts that they have been in regular contact since May 2016 with local law enforcement in the counties that will be affected by the project and have consulted with these officials every step of the way. Yet earlier this month, Sheriffs from eight counties along the proposed high-speed rail route held a press conference to express their concerns about the bullet train.
These law enforcement officials assert that they were never consulted regarding the project and that the first communication from the bullet train developer came on February 13, 2018, years after first claimed contact was supposed to have taken place. Citing potential detours that could increase emergency response times, concerns about trespassing on private property, and intimidation tactics by agents of the railway that have been documented by landowners along the proposed route, these Sheriffs are concerned that their already limited county resources would be further stretched by the high-speed rail project.
Promises of “convenient, efficient, and direct” connections to public transportation systems at either end of the rail project also seem questionable. The Houston station approved in the Draft Environmental Impact statement is located at a recently closed shopping mall 1.5 miles from the closest public transportation connection, the Northwest Transit Center. While vague discussions of a future connection to Houston’s METRORail system have been reported, no plans are currently in the works to take light-rail service to that part of the city and neither the developer nor the city transit agency want to shoulder the cost of an extension. The issue would likely remain unresolved for many years after any proposed rail line would be completed.
The site also happens to be located eight miles from downtown Houston. This negates one of the major advantages of most intercity rail connections, convenient connections to end destinations for riders without the need to transfer to other modes of transit. Developers of the project admitted as much noting the location was chosen for its “proximity to existing roads and highways” and that there would be ample parking at these sites. As a project that promises relief from traffic-clogged roads, this seems contradictory to say the least.
Concerned citizens, apprehensive of the commercial viability of the project and the potential implications for taxpayers, have also expressed opposition to the project. At a recent public meeting regarding the proposed railway several Texans expressed concern regarding cost estimates, which have ballooned 60 percent from $10 billion to $16 billion. "We need to know what it's going to cost and we need to know quickly" warned one resident.
Despite promises to exclusively draw from private funds, Texas Central Partners has only raised around 1 percent of the funds required for the project to move forward. In a telling sign, developers of the project have also discussed exploring the option of financing the project through Federally-backed Railroad Rehabilitation and Investment Financing (RRIF) loans.
Concern for potential state taxpayer bailouts of the project became so great that the Texas legislature recently took the extraordinary step of passing a bill specifically prohibiting the use of state taxpayer funds to underwrite development or operations of the rail line. The Federal Government should follow suit and ensure that no taxpayer funds, such as RRIF loans, will ever be at risk by financing or subsidizing this project.
Backers of Texas high-speed rail hold it up as a model to seed similar projects across the nation. While each project should be weighed on their own individual merit, there are many issues surrounding the Houston to Dallas line that raise quality of life questions for the residents left in its wake and call into question its long-term viability. Residents of the Lone Star State are right to express incredulity and opposition to this project and given attempts to nationalize this model across the United States, Americans would be equally wise to blow the whistle on this flawed project.
Travis Korson is a veteran of politics with years of experience in campaigns, communications, and public policy. He previously served in the Bush White House and has also spent time at various conservative organizations and government institutions including the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity, and the Faith and Freedom Coalition. He is a graduate of the George Washington University where he studied International Affairs with a focus on International Economics. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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