Texas transportation and High-Speed Rail: more of a wish than a plan, but the money is there


Tribfest 2014 Transport Pickett 4 more

Transportation what’s next?   Robert Eckels  Clay Jenkins  Bill Meadows  Jonathan Stickland 
Marc Williams  Aman Batheja (mod.)  (speakers not seated in order of names listed)

I’m not as excited as the panelists about the “existing opportunities” for Texas transportation, as it has been implemented over the last decade. Honestly, with the demographic data in hand, and the politics imposed on what should be a clear-eyed effort to provide decent infrastructure for every citizen – not just those who can afford to pay to drive on toll roads – a fantastic amount of resources are now needed to build Texas out of the pothole it has fallen into, thanks to a lack of vision or political will for decades.

Gimlet-eyed communities who looked askance at high-speed for fifty years are waking up to the urgent need for mass transit options.

There is an interesting initiative for high-speed rail from Mexico to states above Texas. This is exactly the direction that planners should go in, as this mirrors the I-35 corridor. TxDOT should facilitate this project and stop thinking of itself as a builder of roads. TxDOT should be a provider of transportation infrastructure in whatever shape or form is needed for future travelers.

Oklahoma is now in “project-level” development with Texas on a plan to consider high-speed rail for the corridor, from Oklahoma to South Texas. Mexico is interested in building and linking a system to that proposed system.

These are some of the types of visionary ideas that should be funded. Builders and bureaucrats want this to be funded through private investment – because apparently, it is no longer appropriate or possible to get basic transportation needs funded by the United States government.

Starting with the corridor between Houston to Dallas would be an interesting direction for development.

There are scoping meetings planned for areas most tangent to the proposed route for high-speed rail. Smaller towns along the way understand that, if the train does not come near their town, it never will, so communities understand what is at stake economically if they resist the plan.

The state’s role in high-speed rail is diminished by the entry of private players. The argument is that there is such stringent opposition to the use of government funds, in part to the ongoing, toxic war between fundamental conservatives and progressives that taking the funding private does an end run over political gridlock. It is also an admission that Texas is bankrupt, as far as transportation funding for rail goes.

Get ready for roads and rail built by private companies who will be involved in making decisions that involve bulldozing areas that are in the way of the straight line needed for the rail to travel. Voters, who have not been able to see their own needs as their transportation system started to crawl, will take a back seat to the industry now –  and it’s full speed ahead for the folks with the bags of money to invest in a system that the rest of us seem to have given up on.

Weirdly enough, I feel sort of hopeful. These guys don’t want to see future failure and they seem pretty psyched about this plan.  We are at the breaking point  – TxDOT has a five million transportation funding deficit. Too bad venture capitalists are not as excited about funding high-speed rail as they are in Uber, AirB&B, and grocery delivery apps. But between the twin devils of politicians and private investors, maybe it’s time to back the player who can actually build a high-speed rail.

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