The private company hoping to build a bullet train connecting Houston and Dallas says it has opted for a route that will ultimately impact as few landowners as possible.
In a statement yesterday, Texas Central Railway officials said they've told the Federal Highway Administration that the company has chosen the so-called "Utility Corridor" option, which the company says would run along high-voltage transmission lines and "reduce the project's impact on communities and landowners." The route would stretch from downtown Dallas to Cypress, then follow U.S. 290 into the Loop.
Rural landowners along the rail's proposed routes have become the main source of contention surrounding the estimated $10 billion project, which Texas Central officials insist will be paid for with private funding and not public subsidies. Some rural county leaders and politicians claim the rail line could divide ranch land and tank property values in some patches along the route.
Although the route chosen by Texas Central Tuesday would bypass Montgomery County altogether, Conroe Republican state rep. Will Metcalf reiterated his criticism of the project in a statement: "We need more roads for citizens to travel to ease our existing roadways. We do not need a High Speed Railway in Texas that will only benefit a few, while at the same time disturbing thousands of citizens within its path."
Texas Central officials call the utility corridor line a "superior alternative" to another proposed route that would have stuck closely to the existing right-of-way owned by BNSF Railway, a national freight rail company. It's unclear whether that option was scrapped because Texas Central and BNSF couldn't come to an agreement.
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Texas Central, which is working with a Japanese manufacturer to build the bullet-train system, says it wants to start operations by 2021. The train would - in theory - travel at speeds of about 200 miles per hour, whisking Houstonians to Dallas in 90 minutes flat.
The project is currently undergoing a federal environmental impact study. While the company has already identified two potential end-point stations in downtown Dallas, it's not exactly clear yet how (or if) the proposed route would snake its way into Houston's downtown area. The company says it's asking federal officials to consider two routes into Houston -- one that tracks through some residential areas and another that connects along the I-10 corridor.
Mayor Annise Parker has come out hard for the I-10 option. Parker issued this statement yesterday:
"Today's announcement indicates a clear commitment to develop the project in a way that is sensitive to the voices of our communities, and it gives me confidence that my request that the I-10 corridor be considered as a route for high-speed rail into Houston will receive a thorough review. I was an early supporter of high speed rail for Texas and believe it can be a significant addition to Houston's transportation network. I look forward to continuing to work with the Texas Central Rail group to make it a success."