The DOT sought comments from the public on how to implement these equity goals in its policies and programs and received over 300 comments, many of which were related to the high-speed rail project planned by Texas Central between Dallas and Houston.
Delta Troy Interests, LTD, a real estate development firm active in the greater Houston area, believes that the project will have a disproportionately negative impact on residents of Waller County, a majority minority county northwest of Houston whose population consists of 54 percent minority residents.
“By dividing and isolating some areas and neighborhoods from others, the proposed high-speed rail project will reinforce and in many cases exacerbate geographic, racial, and income disparities along its path,” Delta Troy wrote to DOT.
“At its very essence, the proposed project serves affluent travelers and business executives at the expense of the rural residents in areas in between who must bear the brunt of the environmental, economic and social degradation and segregation wrought by the project.”
Waller County Judge Trey Duhon echoes those concerns. He told The Texan that some of the issues with the high-speed rail project are very similar to those that have halted the Interstate 45 expansion project in Houston. Duhon also serves as president of Texans Against High-Speed Rail.
In the I-45 case, Harris County officials have raised concerns in a lawsuit about displacing low-income and minority residents. County Judge Lena Hidalgo said, “We cannot continue to support transportation policy that prioritizes policy over people.”
Duhon doesn’t believe the economic impact on rural counties like Waller County has been studied adequately. “It will result in a lost opportunity for the use of real estate, and any negative impact it has on the tax base will also affect the services the county can provide to its residents.”
The Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) environmental impact statement (EIS) released last year was required to consider the impact the high-speed rail route would have on minority and low-income communities, Duhon said.
In Dallas County, the EIS shows that the low-income and minority communities of Le May and Le Forge are two that would be negatively impacted by the route. If Texas Central provides a realtor and relocation services and pays fair market value for the property, the property owners are likely to be priced out of the area and will have to relocate farther away, Duhon said.
He also criticizes the FRA for not conducting a “programmatic environmental impact study” to consider alternatives. “They picked one route based on cost and stuck with it,” Duhon said.
One question raised by critics about the chosen route involves one of the investors in Texas Central, Jack Matthews, who reportedly owns property in south Dallas where the station would be built. According to a 2015 press release by Texas Central, Matthews Southwest, Jack Matthews’ development group, will serve as the development partner of the Dallas high-speed rail station and surrounding areas for transit-oriented development.
Matthews is an investor in Texas Central.
Other concerns raised in the public comments to DOT involved whether affected communities were given adequate opportunity to express concerns. Debra Manuel also submitted a comment citing examples of meetings being telephonic instead of in-person and connections being lost during the meeting. Also, she noted that a meeting scheduled in Madison County was moved to a smaller venue that could not hold all interested participants, who were then turned away.
William Scofield, president of Bud Adams Ranches, Inc. which has property along the proposed high-speed rail route, questioned the timing of some of the public comment meetings hosted by the FRA, which he believes were scheduled at times near holidays to “willfully discourage” attendance.
“In fact, the final EIS discloses that two meetings were held during Thanksgiving week in November 2019 and that the only meeting ever held in Waller County was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving 2019!” Scofield wrote in his comments requested by the DOT about equity issues.
Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX-08), who has been critical of the Texas Central project, wrote in an email to The Texan, “Local officials have also raised concerns that the rail system will displace low-income and minority neighborhoods along the route, specifically in the area surrounding Dallas. Not only would this project displace the most vulnerable communities who are trying to recover from the pandemic, but it would be funded by taxpayers from those same recovering communities.”
“[Texas Central Railway] is looking to President Biden’s proposed infrastructure plan to pay for their project, a plan that currently has no method of being funded. Texas Central vowed for years to not seek federal funding for their high-speed rail project, but they have since reneged on that promise,” he added.
Rep. Colin Allred (D-TX-32), who has been a supporter of the project, did not reply to multiple requests for comment.
In his testimony before a U.S. House Committee in May, Texas Central CEO Carlos Aguilar addressed the equity by primarily pointing to job opportunities the project is expected to create. He called it “the most ambitious inclusion of small, rural, minority, women, veteran, and disabled individual owned businesses ever attempted in a heavy construction project in US history.” Aguilar’s written testimony did not address the direct impact on minority and low-income property owners who may be forced from their homes.
Texas Central did not reply to an inquiry by The Texan about how the project has taken the impact on low-income and minority property owners into account.
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Kim Roberts is a regional reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.