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Harris takes aim at high-speed rail project

State Rep. Cody Harris (R-Palestine) is taking aim at a planned high-speed rail project from Dallas to Houston.

Harris has introduced bills that purport, among other things, to protect private property from eminent domain, thus preventing Texas Central Railroad from acquiring its right-of-way. The bills also would prohibit the rail company from starting construction until it has acquired all of the property needed for the project.

The House bills have not yet had a committee hearing, said Chief of Staff Jeff Carlson.

Harris, who just started his first term, made stopping the rail project one of his signature campaign promises.

Plans by Texas Central call for a high-speed train that would – possibly by 2024 – whisk passengers between Dallas and Houston at speeds of up to 200 mph. It would run on nearly 250 miles of tracks through 11 counties (Anderson County is not one of them).

Texas Central has said the $20-billion project will be financed entirely by private money. Critics, however, worry the rail company eventually will ask for public funds.

The rail line would, Texas Central said, reduce travel time between Dallas and Houston from several hours to 90 minutes; alleviate traffic, congestion, and highway maintenance costs along the heavily traveled I-45 corridor; create 10,000 temporary jobs during the building phase, and sustain about 1,000 permanent jobs after construction.

It also said its studies show the project would, by 2040, generate roughly $2.5 billion in taxes to the state, counties, local municipalities, school, hospital, and community college districts.

In response to Harris' bills, Texas Central stated it shares “elected officials’ concerns for property rights and (is) committed to following state law that allows limited eminent domain authority for efforts that provide for a public good and a strong economy.”

The statement also said the Texas Constitution and legislative statutes have long granted this authority to railroads, pipelines, electrical lines, and other industries. “Any use of this legal authority would be a last resort,” the statement reads. “We are working collaboratively in a personalized fashion with landowners.”

Carlson said Harris and his office have been working with Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) and Rep. Terry Canales (D-Edinburg) to get the bills referred to committee.

Two of the four bills will have companion bills in the state Senate, he said.

“It's early in the process,” Carlson said. “They can't be heard for the first 60 days.”

According to a press release from Harris, the HSR has received stiff opposition over concerns about eminent domain and how the company will finance the project.

The 120-day session ends May 22.

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