Thursday, March 7, 2024

Future of High-Speed Rail is in Richardson's Hands

Source: Hunt Realty via D Magazine
Artist rendering, D Magazine

The future of high-speed rail in Texas is in Richardson's hands. Overstatement? Sure, but it's not completely wrong, either. The "hands" I'm referring to belong to our own Richardson City Councilmember Jennifer Justice. She's a member of the Executive Board of the North Central Texas Council of Governments. NCTCOG allocates billions of federal dollars for transportation projects. In contrast, the Richardson municipal budget is about $400 million. A hot project under consideration by NCTCOG right now is an elevated high-speed rail line through the City of Dallas going west to Ft Worth and southeast to Houston.

I highlight the Dallas locus because that's where the controversy lies. D Magazine's Matt Goodman has the story. It's all about urban planning in downtown Dallas, and how an elevated high-speed rail line will mess up that planning. It's a battle between the "big dogs", as longtime Dallas journalist Jim Schutze puts it.

Richardson's Jennifer Justice finds herself in that battle. She is sitting on the Executive Board of NCTCOG, which will be making some critical decisions. I just wrote a blog post about urban planning in the City of Richardson. The Richardson City Council approved a request to redevelop an unused building in its Interurban Sub-district for use as a warehouse with expanded space for the outdoor storage of lumber, steel, and concrete building supplies. I thought this use was inconsistent with the vision for redevelopment of this district and should have been rejected. I thought that Councilmember Justice, before voting in favor of the request, downplayed the significance of the changes being asked for by the property owner. I thought that hers was a bad rationale resulting in a bad vote.

A reader commented, "Are there not bigger issues on the table?" Indeed there are. Issues like high-speed rail. Jennifer Justice is using minor league games at Richardson City Hall to hone her skills in preparation for the big league pitching she'll be facing at NCTCOG. An elevated rail line slicing off the southwestern corner of Dallas from downtown has the look and feel of that elevated freeway on the eastern side of Dallas that sliced off Deep Ellum and killed the economic life on the ground there. As much as I favor a high-speed rail line from Dallas to Houston, I don't want it to be at the expense of the future development of walkable urban neighborhoods in downtown Dallas. So I'll be watching closely how Justice does in the big leagues.

Billions of dollars are at stake. Jennifer Justice is not a "big dog." Her experience with lumber yards in Richardson might not be enough. Can she get up to speed quickly enough on all the angles the big dogs will be playing? Can she resist the pressures she'll be under to direct some of that money to one big dog or another? I just don't know. She's bright. She's a trained lawyer. What I do know is that she's unproven. Her performance in handling that proposal for a lumber yard in Richardson is not a propitious sign for her to keep from being rolled over by the big dogs battling about high-speed rail.

"Future in her hands,
Justice now in the big leagues,
Rail decisions loom."

—h/t ChatGPT

1 comment:

Mark Steger said...

By the way, I don't know how much the Executive Board of NCTCOG is involved in the decision making here. It might be NCTCOG's Regional Transportation Council (RTC) that's more hands-on with this decision. Richardson used to have a seat on the RTC (Janet Depuy) until her defeat by Bob Dubey in the mayor's race. Now Richardson has to rely on Addison's mayor to represent Richardson's interests on the RTC. I wrote about that consequence of electing Bob Dubey in "Where is the Institutional Jealousy?"