Two big-ticket rail projects in North Texas are on a list of 50 infrastructure projects nationwide, totaling at least $137.5 billion, as the new White House tries to determine its investment priorities, according to documents obtained by McClatchy’s Kansas City Star and The News Tribune.
The documents, circulated within the congressional and business communities, offer a first glimpse at which projects around the country might get funding if Trump follows through on his campaign promise to renew America’s crumbling highways, airports, dams and bridges.
Among the projects is a proposed high-speed rail line from Dallas to Houston. A thumbs-up from President Trump could be just the thing the oft-criticized project needs to get back on track.
A second project on Trump’s list is a proposed Cotton Belt commuter rail line from the north side of Dallas-Fort Worth Airport to suburban cities such as Addison and Plano. That project, when combined with the TEX Rail commuter rail project already under construction in Fort Worth and Grapevine, would create a 67-mile passenger rail corridor cutting diagonally across the Metroplex from southwest to northeast.
The Trump team put together the priority list of “Emergency & National Security Projects,” a senior congressional aide said. It includes cost estimates and job impact numbers.
It is not clear whether that document is a draft or a final version. The National Governors Association circulated a similar list as a spreadsheet among state officials in December, requesting further suggestions. All but two projects on both lists are the same.
Some projects governors suggested — in California and Washington state in particular — do no yet appear on either list.
The governors association has received 43 responses from states and territories so far, said Elena Waskey, a spokeswoman for the association.
“The total number of projects is more than 300,” Waskey said. “We are working to convene information for as many states as possible that we will then forward to the administration.”
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Among the projects listed is a $10 billion proposal to replace the nation’s radar-based air traffic control system with one called NextGen, based on satellites. The document indicates that the project could create 2,300 direct jobs.
Some states, such as Missouri and Texas, have more than one project listed, while others appear to have come up empty. Neither document lists any projects in Kansas, for example.
The National Governors Association asked governors’ offices last month for input on a preliminary list of infrastructure projects compiled by the Trump team, said Jaime Smith, a spokeswoman for Washington’s Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee.
“They seek examples of priority infrastructure projects that might be incorporated into a future infrastructure investment program,” said the letter from the governors association, dated Dec. 16. “Specifically, the transition team is looking for 3 to 5 project suggestions from each state that they would vet for inclusion in a new program.”
The letter said the vetting would be done by a bipartisan infrastructure commission overseeing investments.
The letter also noted that any contributions governors made would not be binding, and that this was “just an initial information-gathering request.”
The mammoth high-speed rail project, in which trains capable of traveling more than 200 mph would zoom between Dallas and Houston in 90 minutes or less beginning as early as 2022, has been dogged in recent months by complaints that eminent domain would be used to forcibly take property from rural areas between the cities.
Some state officials have said they would seek remedies in the current legislative session to prevent Texas Central Railway’s developer from taking private land from owners who don’t want to sell.
But the project has massive support in the state, too. The estimated $12 billion to $18 billion project would be privately funded and, if an environmental study can be completed this year, could open as soon as 2022.
“President Trump’s increased attention on the nation’s infrastructure rightly signals that more can be done, in both the public and private investment sectors,” Texas Central company officials said in a statement to the Star-Telegram. “The Texas project is pleased to be considered among the nation’s infrastructure priorities. Texas’ high-speed train is a project being led by free-market principles that will create jobs and economic opportunities.”
Many of the state’s movers and shakers are part of the project. Former Texas Rangers baseball club president Tom Schieffer and former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk are among the advisers.
Baylor alum and Houston businessman Drayton McLane and Fort Worth hedge fund manager John Kleinheinz are among the investors.
Texas Central would use trains and other technology from Japan’s Tokaido Shinkansen, one of the world’s first bullet trains and a system that in more than 50 years has never had a fatal accident.
The project is under federal environmental review, a process that is expected to take several more months.
Texas Central officials maintain that state laws for more than a century have allowed railroads to use eminent domain power to take land needed for tracks and other right-of-way, even if the land owners don’t wish to cooperate. Texas Central has filed lawsuit against about 30 property owners along the preferred route who have said they don’t want railroad surveyors on their land.
Opponents of the project say Texas Central doesn’t qualify for eminent domain under Texas law because the company isn’t yet a railroad — since it currently owns no tracks, rolling stock or depots.
At DART, officials said Tuesday they were unaware of any new developments in the effort to develop the Cotton Belt corridor, other than reports had been surfacing for about two weeks that the project might wind up on a short list of nationwide priority projects.
“We are always supportive of ways to inject additional federal dollars into long-term transportation infrastructure, but have not been contacted to help develop this list,” DART spokesman Morgan Lyons said.
Last fall, the DART board of directors voted to embark upon plans for a downtown subway as well as to expand Cotton Belt service in northern cities such as Plano and Addison. Many supporters of the subway plan argued that DART couldn’t afford both projects.
But others hailed the decision as a good move to ensure regional mobility.
The Cotton Belt line would lead riders to DFW Airport, and would become an extension of the planned TEX Rail line that is scheduled to connect Fort Worth to DFW Airport’s Terminal B by late 2018. DART’s Orange Line light-rail service also serves DFW Airport.
Horsley and Vockrodt of The Kansas City Star reported from Kansas City, Mo. Walker Orenstein of The News Tribune reported from Tacoma, Wash. Dickson of the Star-Telegram reported from Fort Worth. Wise of McClatchy’s Washington Bureau reported from Washington. Anita Kumar of McClatchy’s Washington Bureau contributed to this report from Washington.