State and local officials stressed the need for partnerships in regards to transportation projects Nov. 1 during the fifth annual Cy-Fair Houston Chamber of Commerce mobility forum.
“It’s about finding solutions together, because TxDOT doesn’t have all the answers, and it certainly doesn’t have all the money,” said Phil Wilson, TxDOT executive director. “Neither does your local county [or toll road authority], but together we can find critical key needs and leverage our resources together by utilizing toll roads and design-build programs. We can move projects forward in a faster, smarter and more efficient way.”
George Greanias, CEO of the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, also discussed the benefits of partnerships during a roundtable discussion.
“With Hwy. 290, if we don’t coordinate, we won’t get the optimum use out of that corridor,” he said.
During the keynote speech, Wilson spoke about the challenges TxDOT faces in keeping up with population growth in Texas during a time when 1,200 people move to the state everyday. The gas tax, which has remained the same at 20 cents per gallon since 1991, is TxDOT’s main source of revenue. After deductions, TxDOT has about 11 cents left over to use for infrastructure.
“That 11 cents in 1991 bought a very different amount than it does in 2012,” Wilson said.
The future of high-speed rail in Texas also came up during a presentation by Seth Moulton, managing director of Texas Central Railway, a private company attempting to build a line between Dallas and Houston that would get riders between the two cities in 90 minutes traveling at 205 mph. In Japan, the average delay for a high-speed rail trail is 30 seconds, and in Spain travelers receive a full refund if a high-speed train is five minutes late, Moulton said.
“If you think about what we’re used to in America for travel times, things could be a lot better,” he said.
Texas Central Railway is working on an investment grade ridership survey and focusing on what type of stations would be best for the project: downtown, suburban or dual-station.
“This has really important implications for real estate development because often times there are more development opportunities around the stations when you do something outside the city,” Moulton said.
The dual-station model could be a possibility in an area like Houston, which has a lot of growth outside the city.
“If you look at the potential commuter rail system for Houston, six of the seven lines go north or west of the city,” Moulton said. “Since we are coming in from the north, there are a lot of options because there’s a lot of growth and development out here. The dual-station model might make a lot of sense.”
Moulton said the project will most likely be privately financed, and the company hopes to have it running by 2021.