“Contrary to the national focus on infrastructure projects that stand to create tens of thousands of jobs and benefit millions of people, it is ironic that the proposed legislation calls for more government regulation in trying to block a free market led project that will create jobs and generate economic development,” said Holly Reed, managing director of external affairs for Texas Central.
Since the legislative session began, state lawmakers have said they planned to use Austin to constrain development of the high-speed rail project, notably its rights to survey and acquire rural land. Critics of the company have said it has used heavy-handed tactics to force landowners into sales agreements.
Earlier this month, Texas Central announced about 30 percent of the parcels needed for the 240-mile project are covered under sale option agreements, meaning landowners have agreed to sell the land once the project has the necessary environmental clearances and is ready for construction.
The company, which is said its still finalizing its private funding, will use Japanese bullet train technology to travel between the two metro areas. The trip, company officials said would cost around the same as airline travel, estimated to take 90 minutes. In addition to Houston and Dallas, the company plans a stop near College Station.
Along the route, residents and elected leaders who feel the project doesn’t benefit them and ruins the rural character of their communities have banded together to oppose it. State lawmakers, among them Sens. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, and Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, and State Reps. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia and Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, have repeatedly questioned the need for the project.
“Transportation is a critical issue for our state, which requires thoughtful and pragmatic solutions for today and the future,” said State Rep. John Wray, R-Waxahachie. “Texas Central has failed to demonstrate a viable or comprehensive plan addressing the real mobility needs of our state, and the legislation filed today seeks to address the legitimate issues posed by this project.”
One of the major issues dividing Texas Central and opponents is the company’s right to acquire property via eminent domain. The company claims it has rights as a railroad to use eminent domain, though some landowners have challenged that.
Courts, thus far, have issued mixed rulings. In a handful of cases, either courts have not approved the company’s requests or Texas Central has pulled the claims. In a Harris County case last month, in which the landowner did not appear in court, Texas Central was granted a default summary judgement allowing it to survey property and declaring it a railroad.
Lawmakers, many who contend Texas Central does not have eminent domain authority, have said many of their concerns focus on landowner rights.
“Texans have always had a deep respect for the land and for the law,” Kolkhorst said. “That’s why the Legislature must tread lightly when property rights are at risk.”