Will Texas Legislature Kill High Speed Rail?
The fate of the Texas Central high speed rail project rests on “intense negotiations” now taking place in Austin:
Tucked in Page 682 of the budget passed by the Senate in April is Rider 48, a provision that would bar the Texas Department of Transportation from spending any state funds toward “subsidizing or assisting in the construction of high-speed passenger rail.”
The budget rider is one of several efforts by some Republican lawmakers to stop Texas Central Railway’s plan to build a high-speed rail line that would travel between Dallas and Houston in less than 90 minutes, reaching speeds of 205 mph.
Texas Central has vowed to not take public operating subsidies. Nonetheless, company officials say the rider would kill the train because TxDOT, as the state agency in charge of transportation, would need to play a role in the project’s construction.
“If enacted the rider would constrain TxDOT’s ability to work with Texas Central Partners to perform important public safety duties,” the company argues on a website it launched this week to rally public support against the rider.
The Texas Tribune article suggests that there is room for a compromise here, though I’m not entirely sure how you cut a deal between a side that says “build high speed rail” and a side that says “kill high speed rail.”
As a supporter of the Texas HSR project I am hopeful that a deal is struck that allows the plan to go forward. But this is another way that Texas is proving important truths about HSR opposition.
For the last six years the media has argued that high speed rail projects get into trouble when they have large budgets, or ask for lots of public money, or piss off people living near the route, or have supposedly flawed ridership projections, or have poor outreach.
The Texas example shows that the truth is much simpler. High speed rail projects get into trouble when their fate depends on a Republican legislative body.
California’s HSR project lives because Democrats control the state legislature and the governor’s office. If that was not the case, the HSR bonds would never have made it to the ballot in 2008, and a Republican Congress’s decision to cut off any new funds would have dealt a fatal blow to the project.
The future of Texas HSR depends on a bunch of Republicans in Austin. I do not envy them.
UPDATE: Good news: The Texas Legislature has removed the provision that threatened the bullet train.