Texas Central weighing use of federal stimulus money for high-speed rail project

The estimated cost of a high-speed rail project connecting Houston to Dallas could end up closer to $30 billion. (Courtesy Texas Central Partners/Community Impact Newspaper)
The estimated cost of a high-speed rail project connecting Houston to Dallas could end up closer to $30 billion. (Courtesy Texas Central Partners/Community Impact Newspaper)

The estimated cost of a high-speed rail project connecting Houston to Dallas could end up closer to $30 billion. (Courtesy Texas Central Partners/Community Impact Newspaper)

Officials with Texas Central are considering the use of federal stimulus money to help fund a high-speed rail project connecting Houston and Dallas, according to an April 8 letter from Texas Central Chairman Drayton McLane to Texas Sen. Robert Nichols.

In the letter, McLane said the project has "hit a snag with all the difficulties of the Corona Virus," adding that "between the Japanese government funding and the monies we hope to receive from President Trump's infrastructure stimulus through the Department of Transportation, along with private equity, ... the project still has a great opportunity, is viable and can be construction ready this year."

In a June 11 email, officials with Texas Central confirmed the authenticity of the letter, clarifying that Texas Central has, at this time, has not applied for any federal stimulus funding or any funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economy Security Act.

"Texas Central has said for over two years, and continues to say, that they will explore all forms of capital available to private companies to finance debt for the project," officials said in the email.

Aside from private equity and commercial loans, company officials named
Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing and the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act as examples of federal programs that could be used. Officials did not respond to request for comment on how much federal money they could seek or when they could make a decision to apply.

In the letter, McLane also suggests the project could end up costing $30 billion, a higher estimate than was initially expected. As of June 11, the Texas Central website lists the project's total investment cost at $20 billion with civil works estimated at $14 billion.

Taylor Ward, a spokesperson for Re-Route the Route, expressed concerns about Texas Central potentially using federal stimulus dollars, arguing that the project itself is not financially viable. Other critics of the project cited the letter as evidence of Texas Central being misleading about the cost funding plans.

"The fact Texas Central has been misleading citizens about the true cost of this project, $30 billion, and the funding by which this project is to be completed is egregiously inexcusable,” said State Rep. Ben Leman, R-Magnolia, in a statement.

Texas Central did not respond for request for comment on accusations they have misleading about the cost of the project. Officials have previously said any federal funding sought would take the form of loans that would be paid back, so taxpayer dollars would not be on the line. Texas Central estimates the project will have a direct, cumulative economic impact of $36 billion over the next 25 years.

In a statement to Community Impact Newspaper, Texas Central CEO Carlos Aguilar said momentum for the project is building. The company won a key court case over eminent domain in May, and Aguilar said work on another key step—getting environmental approvals from the Federal Railroad Administration—has been moving forward with the publication of a Final Environmental Impact Statement on May 29.

"From an execution standpoint, the project is ready to roll once global financial markets stabilize and the federal approvals process is complete," Aguilar said. "Texas Central's next step is to continue working with our partner organizations and federal and state agencies, led by the FRA, to finalize our permits. The current schedule we have from the federal government anticipates that will happen this summer."
By Shawn Arrajj
Shawn Arrajj serves as the editor of the Cy-Fair edition of Community Impact Newspaper where he covers the Cy-Fair and Jersey Village communities. He mainly writes about development, transportation and issues in Harris County.


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