Texas HSR Gets a New Leader and New Money

Jul 30th, 2015 | Posted by

Some good news for the Texas Central high speed rail project this week:

The board of directors of Texas Central Partners appointed Tim Keith of Dallas as the new CEO and announced the closing of a round of development funding that brings $75 million dollars in new capital, all from Texas-based investors, into the company. The offering was oversubscribed and the funds will be used to support ongoing development activities.

The new funding comes just two months after the proposed Dallas-to-Houston bullet train system was almost derailed by opposition in the state legislature.

So they won an important legislative fight, have a new chief executive, and got some more capital. All great news. Sure, California HSR has over $4 billion in capital in the door from state and local government, but that’s cool Texas, you need money too.

Their estimate is that they need $12 billion to build the project. But they’ll also need administrative help from the state to get environmental clearances done, and maybe land acquisition, which gives opponents some leverage to try and stop it from happening.


Palmdale Welcomes HSR and its Economic Benefits

Jul 28th, 2015 | Posted by

Today NPR’s Marketplace examined the effect of high speed rail on Palmdale and the likely boost to the local economy that it will bring – particularly by shortening commutes.

Flowers and subdivision

A commuter train takes about two hours to get to Los Angeles. The bullet train could cut that time to 20 minutes.

Sammy Hults lives in Palmdale and travels for work. “It would allow me to look for work in more different major cities,” he says. “And having this rail, it’d be really easy to get there because travel time is really short.”Shorter travel times could also have a big impact on real estate. Palmdale has traditionally been an outpost for people who can’t afford to buy property in Los Angeles.

“It’s really affordable still, and that’s one of the reasons that a lot of people move into the area,” says Marco Henriquez, who owns Amigo Real Estate. “You can have a house and pay a lot less. Most of the times, half what you pay in the L.A. area.”

No doubt that real estate agents are salivating over the prospect of it being faster to get to downtown LA from Palmdale than from Santa Monica. The median sales price for a home in Palmdale is $230,000 according to Trulia which is shockingly cheap. The average for Los Angeles County is $475,000 and far higher than that along the coasts. Of course, HSR will also bring jobs to the Antelope Valley, as reverse commutes become possible.

HSR will also give a boost to existing businesses. When you cut the distance and time of a commute, residents have more money and more opportunity to support local businesses:

Other business could also benefit from shortened commute times.

Roxana Martinez owns Lucky Roxy’s Café. She often doesn’t see her regulars during the work-week because so much of their free time is eaten by the commute.

“By the time they get home, it’s practically like 7:30, 8 o’clock,” she says. “The kids are going to sleep, so they’re not really going to go out and dine. So I think that, just having that station here, and reducing the commute, I see it as a benefit to us. I see more customers coming in.”

Roxy’s customers rave about the café’s country gravy. And while it’s too much to call high-speed rail her ‘gravy train,’ it will help her sell more gravy.

To those benefits we can also add savings on gas. Palmdale residents are paying around $4 a gallon for gas, which adds up fast on a daily commute to and from the LA basin. Saving money on gas means more money to spend on local gravy.

As this article shows, HSR better for businesses and for quality of life. And the more people who use HSR to commute to Los Angeles, the less people will be driving on the 14 freeway, helping improve the Antelope Valley’s air quality as well.

Glad to see NPR highlighting these benefits.


Hanford To Begin Studying an HSR Station

Jul 23rd, 2015 | Posted by

Some welcome news out of Kings County, where Hanford is considering a station planning grant:

The council previously considered accepting the $600,000 grant from the California High Speed Rail Authority on June 2. The authority plans to fund the grant using $200,000 of Proposition 1A money and $400,000 from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

As a condition of the grant, the city would have to provide a local match of $200,000, plus $50,000 for staff time and other services. Representatives from Kings and Tulare counties, as well as the city of Visalia, have offered to contribute to the matching funds.

Visalia in particular has always been a strong supporter of HSR, in part because their leaders understand quite well how important the project is to their city’s economic future:

Visalia City Manager Mike Olmos said the Hanford high-speed rail station should serve as a regional station to benefit the surrounding area. Olmos said one of Visalia’s weaknesses in attracting businesses is its lack of connectivity to the rest of the state.

“Our council has been very clear that if the project does happen that we would come and try to partner with Hanford and the Kings County community to try to bring a regional station to fruition,” Olmos said. “It benefits all of us in several ways, primarily economic development.”

It’s really good to see Visalia leaders express this strong support for HSR and this keen understanding of why the status quo isn’t working for the Valley. As the economy booms on the coast, the Central Valley is getting left behind because it isn’t well connected to those coastal metropolises. HSR can bring jobs and businesses to Hanford and Visalia, something both communities desperately need.

HSR becomes even more important in the midst of a drought, as the agricultural industry struggles to manage the lack of water. There will always be farming in the Valley, but the drought is a reminder that the region must diversify and add in new businesses and industries if it is to survive.

Tuesday Open Thread

Jul 21st, 2015 | Posted by

Been offline for most of the last week at Netroots Nation in Phoenix. Got a chance to use the city’s light rail system, which is useful even in the hot sprawl of central Arizona.

• Jeff Wood’s latest podcast covers lessons from France and Germany in a conversation with a planner at the FTA. Worth a listen.

• Jacobs Engineering Group has been awarded an HSR design contract to work with Dragados-Flatiron on the segment from Fresno south to the Kern County line.

• Exurban Texas continues to fight high speed rail.

• This week’s True Detective episode directly references the California High Speed Rail Authority, including using their logo and name in a scene that implies an Authority official is involved in shady land deals and morally dubious extracurricular activities – and willing to collude with a gangster to keep it quiet. The show went to pains to not use the name of the City of Vernon, even though that’s where most of the story takes place. So why not mask the CHSRA name? If I were the Authority, I’d be pissed, though I probably wouldn’t want to draw more attention to a show that nobody seems to be watching.