Is car-loving, free-wheeling Texas ready to take a highway hiatus in favor of high speed rail projects?
Maybe. We're going to think about it for a couple of years, and then get back to you.
For many transit advocates, the news that the Texas Department of Transportation will receive $15 million in federal stimulus funds from the national High Speed and Intercity Rail grant program comes as a victory. The grant will be utilized to begin a study to choose a route between Houston and Dallas and determine the environmental impact of such construction. Yet that study is estimated to take upwards of 30 months to complete in order to analyze a route where rail lines already exist.
Indeed, the state's path to rapid inter-city transit is moving at far below high speed. Funds provided to other regions provide for more concrete improvements, such as a high speed rail connection between Detroit and Chicago, improved Acela service in the Northeast, and a grant program that will allow California to purchase trains that can reach speeds of 220 mph.
Texas' confirmed proposal represents a sizable leap forward to past rail fund issuances, in which the state consecutively received $4 million, $11 million and $5.6 million portions of the Obama administration's $2 billion high speed transit initiative. The slow trickle was not the result of regional favoritism, but because of consistently weak propositions. Remarked U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in 2010, "If Texas had had its act together, it would have gotten some high-speed rail money."
The $15 million to fund the Houston-DFW study has already passed through the hands of Republican governors of Florida, Wisconsin and Ohio, all of whom returned the money citing that local costs made the grants impractical. Gov. Rick Perry can't call take-backsies though — the cash comes with a footnote preventing returns.