Photo illustration by Texas Central Partners
ARLINGTON — As the public input period comes to a close for a proposed high-speed rail line from Dallas to Houston, North Texas transportation planners are unveiling potential stops for a connector route.
The Regional Transportation Commission on Thursday discussed progress for a connection to Fort Worth and ongoing discussion with other planners for a line south from Fort Worth to Waco, Temple-Killeen, Austin, San Antonio and Laredo.
The RTC will decide in April whether to take on the environmental study to get the Dallas-Fort Worth line in motion. Environmental clearance would be about two years away.
A stop in Arlington remains a point of contention. Officials in Dallas, where a penny of sales tax goes to Dallas Area Rapid Transit, do not want Arlington — which is not a part of DART or the Fort Worth Transportation Authority — to get high-speed rail. Dallas City Council member Sandy Greyson reiterated that point at Thursday’s RTC meeting in Arlington.
"It is the city of Dallas’ position that no city be included unless they are member of a transit authority," Greyson said.
Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams responded to Greyson that "we certainly want to be regional players and very much want to be part of the regional transportation system."
Public input period ending
Meanwhile, Friday ends the Federal Railroad Administration’s public input period on the $15 billion Dallas to Houston line being proposed by Texas Central Partners. The company hopes to break ground on the project next year.
Though it already held public meetings in each of 10 counties affected by the rail line during the impact period, federal railroad authorities added a meeting last Monday in Houston after several requests. Texas Central officials said people in Houston wanted to talk about the location of the station. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement evaluated three Houston terminal station options, including Northwest Mall, which was eventually selected.
The Federal Railroad Administration will look into concerns from the public and include all the comments in a final environmental impact statement.
"We will be notified to incorporate solutions into the designs," said Holly Reed, managing director of external affairs for Texas Central Partners. "That gets put into the action plan for the project."
The company’s plan for high-speed rail is not popular with many landowners and leaders in rural counties along the route. Sheriffs from the eight rural counties along the proposed route held a news conference last week to introduce their coalition and voice concerns about the bullet train, which would take passengers from Dallas to Houston in 90 minutes with a stop near College Station.
‘Frought with faults’
The sheriffs’ event was supported by Texans Against High Speed Rail, which is also ramping up its opposition.
The Draft Environmental Impact Statement "in and of itself is really a disaster argument, frought with faults," said Kyle Workman, president of Texans Against High Speed Rail. "It’s based on a fundamental they can realign or close roads. Or the assumption they can charge tax on ticket sales. Transportation is not charged sales tax.
"If you’re Texas Central and assume you can reroute 15 roads in a county, what happens if that county says you can’t do that. And every county is doing that from Ellis to Waller," Workman added. "Look at the major issues that are already there and you can only imagine the depth at which the minor issues go. They are so far from being able get this done, it’s not even funny."
Texas Central Partners says the public input process, which began Dec. 22, is designed to address concerns from county leaders, the Texas Department of Transportation and individuals. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement assures that no public roads will be closed, the company said.
"It is a 240-mile project that touches a lot of people’s property," Reed said. "That’s very important, to take those concerns into the process."
Holly Reed of Texas Central Partners, developers hoping to build and operate a high-speed train between Dallas and Houston
Texans Against High Speed Rail also believes Texas Central needs legislative approval before it can operate as a railroad. The company disagrees.
"The pace is set by the FRA, the environmental statement and a safety permit," Reed said. "We hope that’s final by year end, which starts construction next year. The Legislature does not have to take action for the project to go forward."