We are in an unprecedented time in the history of our country. In a challenging environment like today, we need people with visionary ideas, like the Texas Central high speed rail project, to get us back on track. When did political leadership cease to celebrate ideas and projects that make our future brighter, better and more attainable?
In terms of great infrastructure projects, I see the same inaction everywhere. An $8 billion project that would send wind power from Wyoming to California, requiring 12 years to get permits; a $3 billion project that would bring hydropower from Canada to New York City, 10 years, and counting; a $20 billion project implementing a new technology for exporting natural gas to the Caribbean and South America, 7 years and counting; and a $1 billion project repurposing old rail lines to move water to one of our largest cities, 12 years and counting. It takes 9.5 years on average just to get a new highway approved in the U.S. There are Apollo moon shots everywhere I look.
Which brings me to the Texas Central project. Private investment, 10,000 jobs all across our country (in a time of COVID-19), deployment of high-speed rail technology for the first time in the Americas, development of downtown Houston and downtown Dallas. And lest I forget, this $22 billion project is being developed by private visionaries. Is there a better time to move this project forward than right now?
The current system is laser-focused on methodical public spending, and is designed to do one thing: spend tax and debt on public works. All of the projects that I described, along with Texas Central, are asking the bureaucracy to do something different—approve private investment.
This problem has three main layers:
1. “A Case of the Slows.” Bureaucracy smothers infrastructure projects by moving really slowly. U.S. transit projects—an apt comparison with high-speed rail, because we have none—cost twice what European transit projects cost. The reason? The death march of the permitting and regulation process. One example: Environmental approval applications can run as many as 29,000 pages, and must be approved by 17 different agencies. As one high level official told me: “Nobody reads them, you can’t … .”
2. “A Case of Theft.” If you think about it, the piling up of legal, lobbying and environmental costs, as issues are studied two and three times, is not so much inevitable overhead as it is theft of private property. It is the business equivalent of the legal community’s “justice delayed is justice denied.”
3. “Good for the Country, Bad for my Business.” This is an actual quote from a Kansas City engineering company, justifying why they didn’t want to speed up the bureaucratic approval process for projects. The attitude is wrong. It wasn’t this way before the Depression. When my grandfather started the Anderson Electric Company, or dammed up a river to start the Oslo Power and Light Company, he got his permits and he got it done. That’s how we made our country, and that’s how we can remake it.
The Texas Central project requires (immediately) what the public sector is designed to do in a moment of crisis, provide inexpensive financing for a project that will create jobs, support businesses and create disruptive value for the next 20-30 years. To get started, the project, after eight years of preparation, requires a loan of $10 billion. The private sector is riding to the rescue, and the public sector just has to flip the switch. The money is available within the Texas DOT’s Railroad Rehabilitation Investment & Financing (RRIF) program; it is designed for this purpose, and it has no other claimants (in fact, there is at least $27 billion available).
The solution in this time of double crisis for our country is for the government to act swiftly and decidedly. That is where progress comes from. Inaction right now is going to kill us.
At a time when the government has pumped $3 trillion into the economy to save us, why wouldn’t someone exercise leadership and commit to moving this project forward, along with all the other projects that will carry us into the future?
Now is our defining moment.