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Time for another Texas Central legislative update

I keep thinking that Texas Central has reached a point where there’s not much that can be done in the Lege to stop them, and events continue to prove otherwise.

Dallas-Houston bullet train developer Texas Central Partners LLC said its project could be delayed by a provision added to the Texas Senate’s proposed 2020-21 budget Wednesday, even though the company is not planning on using state funds to build the high-speed rail line. The company said language added to the upper chamber’s spending plan would encourage lawsuits and “is not beneficial for good coordination and planning.” Meanwhile, project opponents cheered the provision.

The measure, authored by Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, continues to bar state funds from subsidizing high-speed passenger rail projects but would go further than current law. It would prevent the Texas Department of Transportation from helping coordinate access to rights-of-way on state highways for the high-speed rail project until there is a final, unappealable court ruling on the project’s eminent domain authority. Debate over whether Texas Central has the right to condemn land and buy it from unwilling owners has fueled opposition to the project and led to court battles across the state. The new language was added in what’s called a rider to the proposed budget.

[…]

“Working with TXDOT is critical to the project,” the company said in a statement late Wednesday. “This rider would impose arbitrary and discriminatory restrictions for a single project and sets a bad precedent.”

Texas law allows railroads to use eminent domain to take land for projects, and Texas Central says it is one. But opponents argue that the company doesn’t count as a railroad because it’s not operating any trains — and a Leon County Court upheld that viewpoint in February.

Texas Central disagreed with the ruling, citing a previous Harris County ruling in its favor, and said it plans to appeal the judge’s decision. But as the decision stands, the company can’t condemn land in the counties under the court’s jurisdiction, according to an attorney who represented the landowner in that case.

Patrick McShan, an attorney for the group Texans Against High-Speed Rail and more than 100 landowners along the train’s route, said there may be a lengthy court battle to settle the disagreement over whether the company can use eminent domain. And that, he said, could stall the project.

“At least two years, could be four years. Whatever it is, it’s several years,” he said. “It would be a significant obstacle to the project being constructed. … I do not envision a scenario where they can obtain these necessary approvals and these necessary court rulings to prove to the state that it is justifiable and necessary for the state to expend its resources on this project.”

See here for more on that court case, and here for where things stood at the end of the 2017 session. I fondly remember thinking that if Texas Central survived that session with nothing bad happening they were probably in good shape going forward. Those were the days, I tell you. The Senate budget still has to be approved by the full chamber and then reconciled with the House budget, so there will be opportunities for this rider to get ditched. And then I can make the same foolish prediction at the end of this session and get proven wrong again in 2021. It’s the circle of life, almost.

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4 Comments

  1. Jules says:

    If Texas Central doesn’t have eminent domain powers (and currently it does not), the likelihood that the rail could be built is close to zero. It makes sense that the state not waste money on a doomed project.

  2. Jules says:

    Baruch Feigenbaum has put out another report on this project. He points out that the DEIS says that 99% of the drivers between Dallas and Houston will switch to HSR. The highest percentage diversion to date for HSR worldwide is 18%. This is one of the many fatal flaws in this document.

    It’s a shame that the FRA hasn’t rescinded the DEIS. This bad info will have been out for more than 2 years before the final EIS is released. Texas Central is widely broadcasting the many errors as fact; either they actually think 99% of the drivers will divert to HSR or they don’t care about facts.

    https://reason.org/wp-content/uploads/texas-high-speed-rail-plan-requires-caution.pdf

  3. David Fagan says:

    If I worked hard to afford a home and land as an investment, I would fight to keep it. Eminent domain values on land are ridiculous. If eminent domain, even for rail roads, is utilized I would fight to change the law where the land owner would receive a continuous income based on the necessity and operation of the land. They should have a chance to retain the rights to commercial development and use, b/c the real value will be the development along the line and the money given to people relinquishing their investment due to eminent domain will be nothing compared to the value of development.

  4. Jules says:

    There will only be 3 stations on the proposed hsr: Dallas, Houston, and Roans Prairie. The land along the rest of the route will lose value. The Dallas station location was owned by one of TCs investors, the Roans Prairie location by a buddy. TC doesn’t really care about the Houston location because they don’t own land here.