Plans for a high-speed train connecting Dallas and Houston narrowly avoided a death blow in this year’s legislative session, but rural Texans opposed to the project say they’ll continue fighting developers.

Plans for a high-speed train connecting Dallas and Houston narrowly avoided a death blow in this year’s legislative session, but rural Texans opposed to the project say they’ll continue fighting developers.


And their eyes are already on the 2017 legislative session.


"From our perspective, there is not much of a down time in the interim," said Kyle Workman, president of Texans Against High Speed Rail. "We’ve been continuing to work with our legislators. We’ve continued to press forward on our position."


Meanwhile, project developers Texas Central Partners continue pushing forward with what could the nation’s first high-speed rail line. The company announced Wednesday that it has raised $75 million in private funds from Texas investors and has named a new CEO.


Tim Keith, who led a global infrastructure investment firm and is a former Hunt Realty Investments executive, will lead the company, which is also planning developments around the line’s stations in Dallas, College Station and Houston.


Keith and other company officials said the $75 million raised for development of the 240-mile line connecting the state’s two largest metro areas shows that businesses see the project as beneficial to the state.


"Each of them understands the transformational opportunity," Keith said.


Amicable meeting


The new CEO and Workman met earlier this month to discuss rural landowners’ concerns about the project. Both men described the meeting as amicable. But there’s still a large gap to bridge.


Workman said one of his group’s biggest concerns is transparency about how the company plans to obtain land needed for the track and its construction. Keith said the company wants to work "face to face" with landowners and vowed to be upfront about details as they solidify.


The project is going through the environmental review process overseen by state and federal authorities. Though Texas Central has picked a route it prefers, the detailed alignment hasn’t been determined. That means the company doesn’t know the exact pieces of land will be needed.


How it gets the land is a major concern among rural Texans.


The company is able to use eminent domain if a land purchase deal can’t be struck, but officials have long said they’ll rely on that only as a last resort.


"Our ambition is to work with landowners, stakeholders and come to agreements as opposed to finding ourselves in condemnation," Keith said.


Workman, though, said the company will find that it has to use eminent domain in most cases.


"I hear from locals from Ellis County to Waller County that don’t want to sell their land at any price," Workman said.


90-minute trip


Urban Texans, meanwhile, are largely excited about the project. Texas Central officials hope to carry passengers between Dallas and Houston, with a stop near College Station, in 90 minutes by 2021. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and Houston Mayor Annise Parker released statements Wednesday heralding the project.


Plans have also gained attention from Texans who are accustomed to driving four to five hours between the two metropolitan areas. Government officials say increased congestion between Dallas and Houston will mean a six-hour drive on Interstate 45 by 2035.


The company would like to put the Dallas station in the Cedars neighborhood near the city’s convention center. City officials and civic leaders see the station as a potential economic development generator that also bridges downtown and the burgeoning neighborhood to its south.


Among investors announced Wednesday is Jack Matthews, whose Dallas firm Matthews Southwest developed the downtown Omni Dallas Hotel and South Side on Lamar project in the Cedars. Matthews is also a member of Texas Central’s board.


The other investors named were John Kleinheinz of Fort Worth and Drayton McLane of Temple.


Glen Bottoms, executive director of the American Conservative Center for Public Transportation, said the project is a "win-win" because private money will be used to spur development that benefits the public.


"It’s a no-brainer," he said.


That’s little solace to many of those living in the hundreds of miles between the planned big-city stations.


"We still have a lot of issues," Workman said.


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