Legislature won’t derail Dallas-to-Houston bullet train

Legislature won’t derail Dallas-to-Houston bullet train : AUSTIN — A proposed bullet train between Dallas and Houston has survived a budgeting measure that could have derailed the push for Texas to have a high-speed rail line.

On Thursday, budget writers removed a Senate-inserted rider in the spending plan that said the Texas Department of Transportation couldn’t spend any state money on “subsidizing or assisting in the construction of high-speed passenger rail.”

Backers of the planned 240-mile line had said the provision would have effectively killed the privately funded endeavor. High-speed rail opponents, however, said they were simply trying to ensure that the state wouldn’t bail out the costly project if private funds dry up.

The two-sentence provision in the massive $210 billion state spending plan had proved nettlesome in late-session budget negotiations, pitting rural lawmakers against those who represent Texas’ two biggest metropolitan areas.

And though the language was deleted on a 6-4 vote of the conference committee negotiating the final budget, it wasn’t without stern warnings from project opponents.

“We’re being sold a potential bill of goods,” said Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown. “In the long term, the citizens and the taxpayers are going to be left holding the hook.”

Barring any further maneuvering in the Legislature’s final days, it appears that the high-speed rail proposal could emerge from the session unscathed.

The plan to create a privately funded 90-minute train ride between Dallas and Houston has drawn increasing attention. Company officials have said the train — estimated to cost about $10 billion — could be running by 2021.

The effort has been pitched as a traffic reliever to Interstate 45 and a potential boon to development near downtown Dallas.

Backers said the budget provision would have hamstrung the project, since the Transportation Department’s expertise and oversight are needed for key elements. And Texas Central Railway said in a written statement late Thursday that it was grateful for the conference committee’s vote.

“We believe it is a vote that embraces private enterprise’s commitment to provide innovative solutions to the infrastructure needs of a prosperous and growing Texas,” the company said.

Rural landowners and elected officials along the proposed route have rallied against the effort in recent months. They’ve expressed concern about the use of eminent domain and the prospect that the tracks will split communities.

And with time of the essence, they took their fight to the Legislature.

But bills aimed at stopping or slowing the project appear bottled up in both the House and the Senate. And with the budget rider shot down, Schwertner predicted that Texans “will rue the day” that they didn’t stop the project when they could.

 

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