High-speed rail might bypass Houston area community that wants it

Saturday, January 17, 2015

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- High speed rail has a lot of people saying "not in my backyard." But the one community pushing hardest for rail, may be least likely to go get it. More than 5 routes into the Houston area are being discussed, but the ones at the top of the list bypass the Woodlands.

Rachel Leuck spends 8 or more hours every week driving from her home in the Woodlands to her office in Dallas and back.

"I dread it. It's awful actually," Leuck sighs. "Let me say my hail Marys and please Jesus let me arrive in one piece!"

That's why this wife and well-known wedding planner supports a 90-minute high speed rail line, one that would run along I-45.

"First off, I could work while I was traveling to Dallas.. Time is money when you own a business," she explains.

The Texas Department of Transportation predicts that the amount of time it takes to drive between Houston and Dallas will only grow over the next couple of decades. By 2035, TxDOT expects the four-hour drive to increase to six hours because of continued population growth and additional traffic.

Because of that additional traffic, The Woodlands Township is also pushing for an I-45 alignment.

"It makes sense because it's the most congested, it's where the most population growth is," Bruce Tough, Chariman of Woodlands Township explains.

But a Woodlands route could be the path of most resistance. Because the existing development and greater population density compared to other routes, an I-45 line would be more complicated to build, and it would come with a bigger price tag.

"It is very expensive and very disruptive to people to build in an active freeway," Robert Eckels, President, Texas Central Railway says.

Texas Central Railway (TCR), the private company behind the project, identified routes along 290 or 249 as its preferred alignments to the Federal Railroad Administration. Now it's up to the Federal Government to make the next move. The feds will spend the next months evaluating the environmental impact of all five possible routes. With the booming population and explosive growth from incoming Exxon Mobil, Rachel says she's not the only one who would feel snubbed if the Woodlands is overlooked.

"They would be missing out on a lot of business," Rachel says.

Although there are many factors that will influence the project timeline, TCR has set 2021 as a target opening date, with an estimated $10 billion projected construction cost.