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Texas Central once more gets to deal with the Lege

They’re both farther along, and not as far along, as they might like heading into this session.

Less than two months before the Texas Legislature begins its next session, the yearslong battle over a controversial high-speed rail project is expected to spark more legislative skirmishes.

And after years of public skepticism, Gov. Greg Abbott recently signaled his support for the project in a letter to Japan’s prime minister, although his spokesperson later said that Abbott’s office will “re-evaluate this matter.”

Last month, Abbott sent a letter to Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga saying: “This venture has my full support as Governor of Texas, and I am hopeful that final negotiations of this project with Japan can be concluded so that construction can begin. Public support and momentum are on our side, and this project can be completed swiftly.”

The Oct. 2 letter also included a significant error. Abbott told Suga that the company developing the high-speed rail line had “all the necessary permits to begin construction.”

The Texas Tribune found that Texas Central, the Dallas- and Houston-based company in charge of the project, is far from receiving all permits needed to build the 240-mile line, which would stretch from Dallas to Houston and cost around $20 billion, according to the company. When contacted by the Tribune with this information, Abbott’s office said it would review the matter.

“From the beginning of this project, the Governor made clear that he could support this project if, and only if, the private property rights of Texans are fully respected,” Abbott spokesman John Wittman told the Tribune on Oct. 7.

“The Governor’s team has learned that the information it was provided was incomplete. As a result, the Governor’s Office will re-evaluate this matter after gathering additional information from all affected parties,” Wittman added.

The governor’s office has not responded to multiple follow-up questions about the results of its review and has not explained why Abbott didn’t know the project lacked permits or who Abbott was relying upon for information about the project.

[…]

Texas Central has said that it plans to start construction by the first half of 2021 and that it has already secured sites for stations in Dallas, Houston and the Brazos Valley.

But the Tribune found that Texas Central still hasn’t applied for a key permit from the federal Surface Transportation Board, which regulates transportation projects, for the construction and operation of the proposed rail line, according to an STB spokesperson.

And two Texas agencies, the Texas General Land Office and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said they haven’t received all the necessary permit applications from the company, including the route proposal and a permit to discharge stormwater during the construction process.

A third agency, the Texas Department of Transportation, must approve permits for the rail line to cross state roads during construction, but a spokesperson said the agency would consider any proposals from the company only after the STB approves the project.

The company did receive two key approvals in September from the Federal Railway Administration, which provided the regulatory framework and the environmental review for the high-speed train. The railway administration explained that these rulings covered several of the permits needed by the project in areas like railroad safety, protection of parkland and protection of cultural resources.

See here for the previous update, about the approval provided by the Federal Railroad Administration. I have no idea where the other permits stand, or how long that part of it is supposed to take. We’re about to enter at least the third legislative session where I find myself saying “if they can just make it through this session, they’ll probably be okay”. They did fine in 2019, but their opponents are organized and dedicated, and even though I suspect they’re a minority, I have no idea offhand who their best champion in the Lege is. A small group of people who really care about something can often beat a larger group of people who don’t feel all that strongly about whatever it is they’re being asked to care about. TCR might also want to check in with Greg Abbott and make sure he has up to date information from them – assuming he bothers to respond to their requests, of course. On the plus side for TCR, the Lege has a pretty packed agenda, which may crowd out anything their opponents want to do. But I wouldn’t count on that.

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13 Comments

  1. Jules says:

    “ TCR might also want to check in with Greg Abbott and make sure he has up to date information from them – assuming he bothers to respond to their requests, of course.”

    Oh please, who do you think actually wrote Abbott’s lie-filled letter to the Japanese PM? Do you really think Abbott refuses to talk to McLane, whom he appointed head of Texas’s economic development corporation, which paid for Abbott’s Japan trip?

    The STB application is a years-long process. But first they have to redesign the Shinkansen to meet US crash standards.

  2. SocraticGadfly says:

    I continue to think this project is about real estate grifting first, transportation second.

  3. Jules says:

    SoGad, exactly. And my guess is that the “Texas Investors” do not get repaid from the fare box, but rather when the project is funded.

  4. David Fagan says:

    It is incredible to me that land owning citizens who are fighting for what they’ve worked for are referred to as “opponents”. There is a story about this “minority”(but a minority not worth sticking up for) having their hard earned private property stripped from them.

    Also, Abbot is the personification of evil when it comes to opening bars and restaurants, but when it comes to cooperating with Japanese governments to hand over people’s land for the Japanese to construct and have a say in the operation of this project, Abbot is seen as a needed ally. Collusion with foriegn governments on this blog has been detested in the past, but this foreign collusion is supported? One word: hypocritical.

  5. C.L. says:

    David, Abbott doesn’t appear to be much of a fan of HFD, either…

    https://patch.com/texas/houston/gov-greg-abbott-signs-houston-s-pension-reform-bill

  6. SocraticGadfly says:

    Jules, I used to live in Navasota. I’ve been to Roans Prairie. The fact that a station would be built there shows just how deep the grift is, and that it’s not confined to Dallas and Houston. And, Kuff (and Brains) and others still don’t look that much under the hood. (Schutze wrote a bunch of stuff about land and Dallas terminal issues.)

  7. David Fagan says:

    You’re right about that C.L. That’s why your emergency response is worse today than it was then. Many people said Houston would experience low staffing levels because of it and no one wanted to listen. Now the day has come where this “HFD Chief” is o.k. with staffing emergency vehicles below N.F.P.A. standards. Another issue was Houston won’t be able to hire anyone, congratulations, that is true also. Another point is Houston would become a training facilities for these outlining areas, that is occurring and the future will show more.

  8. C.L. says:

    Gadfly, can you expound ? What makes Roans Prairie ‘Grift Central’ ? Maybe I’m reading their map wrong – isn’t Roans Prairie being considered as a station due to utility (easement) alignments ?

  9. SocraticGadfly says:

    CL: There’s NOBODY there! Surely any utility easements aren’t worth THAT much money.

  10. Jules says:

    I think they thought they could get support in Grimes county by putting a station there. They did not.

  11. C.L. says:

    @Gadfly. Still confused. The ability to run a RR track through a utility easement has less ‘market’ value because fewer people live in the area…or more ?

  12. mollusk says:

    Roans Prairie is halfway between Huntsville and College Station. The two college towns are linked by Highway 30; it’s about 25 miles from there to both the A&M and SFA campuses.

    It’s also a decent place to branch off a line to Austin without going too far out of the way from either Houston or Dallas.

  13. Jules says:

    The numbers in the picture on the article are complete bullshit. TXDOT shows an AADT of 26,256 vehicles at the low point on I45 in 2014. This includes local and thru traffic, including 18-wheelers.

    So, no, there were not 90,000 vehicles “traveling both ways” per day in 2014.

    This entire project is based on bullshit numbers.

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