COMMENTARY by KYLE WORKMAN
Texans Against High-Speed Rail was formed by everyday Texans who have come together to protect their land, livelihood and way of life. Although Texas Central Railway (TCR), the company hoping to build the Dallas-to-Houston line, has an extensive team of registered lobbyists and political connections on every level, we’re undeterred from ensuring that all Texans are aware of implications of the proposed project.
While many have tried to paint the debate over the project as an urban-versus-rural fight, our group’s supporters own properties along the entirety of the proposed routes, including within both metro areas, and we span the political spectrum. For us, a significant number of questions and concerns remain, only a fraction of which I’m able to share here:
Transportation solution? With TCR lacking railroad professionals in its executive leadership, the project appears to be more about a business venture than a transportation solution. TCR has yet to provide any reliable information on the project’s ability to reduce traffic along Interstate 45, which connects Dallas and Houston. Railway passengers should expect to pay fares roughly equivalent to the price of airfare.
Transparency? TCR officials have recently attempted to “set the record straight” about the project, even hosting a series of poorly publicized open houses. We attended several ourselves and found that, unlike public meetings for other infrastructure projects, very few facts were actually disclosed. Information that comes from the company is routinely inconsistent, such as the number of jobs that will be created, station locations and projected construction costs. Worse yet, landowners have been given a laundry list of promises, and TCR actively opposes accountability legislation — all while withholding feasibility studies to substantiate project viability.
Truly a private project? TCR claims to be a privately funded enterprise that needs no government subsidies. But any use of eminent domain to decrease capital costs is, by definition, a public subsidy. TCR will also consider other public funding options like low-interest federal and state construction loans. Interestingly, Dallas Mayor Rawlings recently said, according to The Dallas Morning News, that the cities of Dallas and Houston would be on the hook for portions of the project.
Will it benefit all Texans? TCR says it would be one of the largest taxpayers in some counties, but it has yet to address the unavoidable decline in value of properties that would be affected by or adjacent to the rail line. Any increase in county tax revenue resulting from the project wouldn’t surpass the loss of revenue from the devaluation of the properties or the coinciding drop in personal wealth. Globally, high-speed rail requires heavy subsidies; in other words, this project will inevitably be funded by all Texans and benefit few.
Fostering access? Large concrete bridge structures and 12-foot-tall security fences atop 16-foot-tall (or taller) earthen berms with overhead electricity infrastructure will certainly limit the natural migration of wildlife, water runoff and access across the tracks, even with occasional pass-throughs. Unlike with power line or pipeline easements, landowners can no longer use, access or freely traverse their land when it’s taken for high-speed rail.
Eminent domain = free market? The free market includes both a willing buyer and willing seller. Eminent domain, by definition, does not. TCR says the project would be cost-prohibitive without eminent domain. Regardless of whether other entities have the same power, eminent domain is not a free-market principle. Instead of truly advancing its project on the free market, the company has lobbied against legislation prohibiting eminent domain by high-speed rail projects. In most cases, the land in question is considered priceless, from those who have owned it for generations to those who have worked their entire life to acquire it, truly on the “free market.”
Texas may have traffic problems, but this project will do absolutely nothing to address the traffic where it actually is, within the cities of Dallas and Houston. It will neither solve transportation needs nor be mass transit — only a luxury train experience.
We’re proud to represent all Texans who oppose this high-speed rail project and encourage others to consider the impact of these unanswered questions.
KYLE WORKMAN, who owns an Austin-based construction consulting firm, is president of Texans Against High-Speed Rail. This commentary was originally published in TribTalk and is reprinted here through a news partnership between the San Marcos Mercury and the Texas Tribune.
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