Texas high-speed rail heading for Tuesday hearing at Capitol

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Anyone who sits in traffic can dream of snapping their fingers and transporting to their destination.

A special subcommittee of the state’s House Transportation Committee that focuses on high speed rails will convene Tuesday morning, when lawmakers will hear testimony on approximately a dozen bills that would affect the status of high-speed rail projects in Texas.

A proposal to build a high-speed passenger rail connecting Dallas and Houston will face scrutiny from lawmakers on Tuesday. A group called Texas Central is behind one of the proposed railways that would allow travelers to go from North Texas to the Houston area in 90 minutes.

“There are successful high speed train segments all over the world that are the sweet spot of too hard to drive – too short to fly – that’s what this project is,” Texas Central’s managing director of external affairs, Holly Reed, said Monday.

“This project is in the right place because of the population and the growth – serving the right communities that are already connected and finally at the right time when riders are experiencing more congestion – it’s harder to get between the two – and people understand right now that more than ever,” Reed explained. “People are getting out of their cars and doing rideshares and taking other modes of transportation, so the timing of the project is also finally right.”

The idea to connect the state in this way faces backlash.

Kyle Workman, who heads up Texans Against High-Speed Rail, argues building a high-speed rail would not solve the traffic problems in the major metroplexes.

“The traffic’s not in the middle, the traffic is at the end right?” Workman retorted.

He also worries construction will disrupt homeowners along the route.

“You’re taking away their ability to live quietly and peacefully in their property that happens to be in the middle,” he said.

Reed concedes some people would be affected by the project development, but she and her cohort are prepared to answer to lawmakers and constituents.

“We know it’s going to be intrusive in some respects during construction and on people’s property – so we work every single day to make sure we have those personalized conversations and solving problems and listening to concerns everyday,” Reed said.

Developers hope Texas lawmakers steer clear from comparing this build to a high-speed rail proposal in California that would have connected San Francisco and Los Angeles. The state’s governor axed that idea in his State of the State address in February.

“California is doing it the California way and Texas is doing it right,” Reed stated. “The Texas project is not a government project, it’s run by investors and entrepreneurs, and that means that every decision on the Texas train is data driven. The Texas train is based where there’s demand, it’s based where there’s population and it’s not trying to build an entire system across the state all at once.”

There is a rider in the state’s pending budget that would prevent Texas from using taxpayer money to subsidize projects that are “unregulated and unapproved by any state or federal entity,” according to the amendment’s author, State Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury. The rider targets expenditures for high-speed rail.

“This project has many issues, and one could easily see the potential outcome that could befall Texas by looking at the catastrophic failure occurring in the California high-speed rail project,” Birdwell said in a statement.

“This rider seeks to solely protect state resources, including state right-of-ways, should Texas Central Rail begin construction before receiving a definitive answer on their condemnation authority,” Birdwell continued.

House Democrat Erin Zwiener, who represents Blanco and Hays counties, said she wants to ensure landowners’ rights are upheld as the state’s transportation infrastructure expands.

“I have a district full of commuters who struggle to get to Austin in a timely fashion,” Zwiener said Monday.

“My own commute was over an hour this morning,” she explained. “We need to make sure that we invest in transportation, but we also need to make sure that we treat landowners with respect and that we always have transparent processes in deciding where these new transportation arteries are going to be placed.”

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