The long proposed high-speed rail line connecting Houston and Dallas is still a long way from leaving the station. The project's developer Texas Central has lined up private funding, completed an environmental review, chosen a route and sites for the hub stations, and partnered with companies on train infrastructure and operations. But now, some state lawmakers are pledging to take a look at the project in the upcoming legislative session, specifically the question of whether developers can use eminent domain to acquire the land.
Texas Central has maintained it has the power to use eminent domain if necessary, and at least one judge in Harris County has agreed. But the company says the goal is to reach amicable deals with landowners and avoid the use of eminent domain altogether. That could be a tough task, with many landowners along the proposed route vowing to hold onto their property and fight the project.
Incoming State Rep. Ben Leman (R-Anderson) says he plans to introduce a bill to give the state more oversight over eminent domain.
State Rep. Cecil Bell (R-Magnolia) believes developers erred from the start when they chose the wrong route for the train. "If they would have gone down the I-45 corridor, they likely would have gotten support from the state and they could have gotten it done," he tells KTRH. "But instead, they're going through the middle of rural Texas where they are cutting into all of these small counties."
Further, Bell doesn't believe this project meets the eminent domain standard of serving a necessary public benefit. "I don't support the use of eminent domain for the installation of an amusement park ride," he says. "If it had been viable, Walt Disney would have built it in the 60s and we'd have been using it forever."
That doesn't mean Bell is against the project altogether. He just believes it should be built without seizing anyone's land. "They just need to go out and engage private property owners in the same manner any other developer engages them," says Bell. "If they can buy the land they buy the land, but if they can't they need to move their location around until they find people who will sell."