DALLAS -- U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx announced plans to launch environmental studies for a Houston-to-Dallas high-speed passenger rail line at the annual Texas Transportation Forum Tuesday.
Foxx said the Federal Railroad Administration, the Texas Department of Transportation and Texas Central High-Speed Railway will partner on the project. The costly environmental study is a prerequisite in developing a transportation project that uses federal funds.
"Of course, there's much more work to be done before the tracks can be bolted down," Foxx said. "But we're thrilled to see that our grant money is being leveraged by private funding. And it's my hope that, through the cooperation of public and private sectors, we can one day link Texas' major cities with state-of-the-art passenger rail."
The Dallas-Houston route is one of several under study as Texas maps plans for how to add high-speed rail to its transportation system.
In October 2012, TxDOT announced plans for a $14 million study of a possible high-speed rail corridor along Interstate 35 from Laredo on the Mexico border to Oklahoma City, 620 miles north. That study was built on a $5.6 million federal grant.
While Gov. Rick Perry rarely mentions high-speed rail as a solution to the state's transportation problems, he told the forum that major advances in highway projects have been made during his 14 years in office.
Under Perry, the Texas highway system has grown by more than 6,600 new miles between 2001 and 2012, more than any other state over that time, with more than $59 billion invested in transportation projects. Projects include widening of I-35 in Central Texas, the beginning of Interstate 69 in the Rio Grande Valley and the Dallas-Fort Worth Connector, built by a private consortium at the entrance to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.
All of the members of the Texas Transportation Commission have been named to the board by Perry for 14 years. The current executive director of TxDOT Phil Wilson was a former Perry aide, as was former TTC Chair Deirdre Delisi.
With Perry leaving office after this year, the TTC announced a new award bearing his name.
Beginning next year, the Rick Perry Transportation Leadership Award will be presented to industry officials who have shown a commitment to advancing transportation infrastructure in Texas.
Perry told the forum that public-private partnerships have allowed the state to expand its highway system without raising fuel taxes or other levies on motorists.
"Transportation fuels the economy that's making it possible for families to build lives, but transportation is also essential to help families enjoy the lives they've built," Perry said. "That's a simple fact of life that we need to keep in mind moving forward. That's why we've taken so many steps over the past decade to improve our roads, while remaining true to the essential Texas value of fiscal responsibility."
Perry also took credit for passage of House Bill 1 in the 2013 Texas Legislature that will allow the state to direct surplus severance tax revenue to major infrastructure projects.
That measure still needs voter approval later this year.