Central Texas Partners has been working to build their Texas Bullet Train for years. It would provide transportation from Houston to the Dallas-Fort Worth area in an hour an a half according to company publications. the train's route would cut through 10 Texas Counties, however, and now multiple sheriff's departments and county leaders are raising concerns. In a meeting of county sheriffs Thursday, March 1st, leaders specifically told Channel 6 the railway would cut off roads that local first responders need.
Texas Against High-Speed Rail Chairman Ben Leman told Channel 6 expressed several concerns related to roads.
"They have cut off county roads," Leman said. "They have literally severed them and are re-routing them going parallel to this project up to a state highway. Then you cross over the state highway and come back down."
"Obviously response times go through the roof," Leman said. "When you are in a rural community ten minutes or five minutes or two minutes can mean life or death."
Channel 6 then asked Texas Central Partners Regional Vice President David Hagy about the roads issue and got a very different response.
"This train is grade separated all the way, It will never cross a road or interact with traffic," Hagy said. "We go over all public roads, we are not allowed to close any public road."
So who is telling the truth? Would the Texas Bullet Train project actually close roads that affect first responders? Channel 6 News set out to Verify that claim.
Channel 6 requested the Dallas to Houston High-Speed Rail Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which described the project, from both Texas Central Partners and Texans Against High-Speed Rail. Channel 6 asked both sides to specify in the document where it says roads will or will not be closed.
Channel 6 also reached out to the Federal Railroad Administration and the Texas Department of Transportation. The Federal Railroad Administration simply referred us back to TxDOT. The Texas Department of Transportation referred us to Texas Transportation Code Section 112, where Channel 6 Could not find a law prohibiting railroads from altering public roads.
Furthermore in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which Texans Against High-Speed Raid provided Channel 6 in full, showed the project would absolutely close private roads and would re-route numerous public roads. Some private roads would be eliminated because the company acquired the property they were on, others would not be swallowed by an acquisition and the project would force the public to make detours.
The document also showed the project forcing numerous public roads, roads which are County Roads, FM Roads, or parts of a highway, to be re-routed.
In Limestone County, where a comparatively small section of the railway is located, 21 private roads would be closed and two public roads would be modified to go over the railway.
In Grimes County where the sheriff meeting took place, 6 private roads would be closed and another 40 public or private roads would be re-routed or modified.
Across Texas, 240 roads would be impacted in the version of the railway, called "Build Alternative A", Central Texas Partners is trying to approve.
While Central Texas Partners Regional Vice President Hagy was, according to our research, correct when he said the project does not close a "public" road, it does relocate numerous public roads and close private roads. With so many road changes across central Texas, the closures and reroutes could definitely affect first responders.
The Draft Environmental Impact Statement does briefly address the impact to first responders. In section 3.16, the report states:
"Many of these modifications would also represent a potential improvement for emergency response. Although travel times would slightly increase along some roads running perpendicular to the alignment,
new access roads running parallel to the alignment would improve access and travel times for some
north-south movements across a service area."
The next section of the paragraph states: "TCRR would coordinate with TxDOT or the appropriate local jurisdiction and any potentially affected emergency responders during final design to avoid any appreciable negative impact to emergency response times."
On Tuesday, County Sheriff Don Sowell contended that his county was not communicated or coordinated with.
While emergency response times may increase for people living near the railway, Section 3.16 included a chart which indicated re-routed roads could add several minutes of delay for first responders trying to cross from one side of the railway to the other.
Given that Channel 6 set out to verify if the Texas Bullet Train project actually closes roads that affect first responders, that a closed private road could restrict the path of a first responder, and that re-routing a public road requires the closing of an existing route and laying pavement for a new route, Channel 6 can verify that the Texas Bullet Train closes roads that affect first responders.