Hold on to your cowboy hats, a high-speed rail is coming! Checking out the latest eminent domain news across the country, we read about a Texas appellate court allowing eminent domain for a high-speed rail project.
In early May, Texas Central Railroad & Infrastructure (TCRI), the company planning to build a high-speed train from Dallas to Houston, had a ruling in its favor by the 13th Texas Court of Appeals. The court ruled that the project can exercise the power of eminent domain because it qualifies as a railroad under Texas law.
Carlos Aguilar, the CEO of Texas Central, was of course pleased with the decision, saying, “This decision confirms our status as an operating railroad and allows us to continue moving forward with our permitting process and all of our other design, engineering, and land acquisition efforts.” The plaintiffs are expected to appeal the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court.
As we have heard time and time again, the property owners are not pleased. (Hope they have a good legal team!) Leon County landowners Jim and Barbara Miles sued the railroad and they are refusing access to survey their land as part of its effort to determine the route for the rail project.
Interesting to us was that the Miles family argued that TCRI is not a railroad under the Transportation Code definition. The Texas Transportation Code Sec. 112.053 grants that right to a railroad company, allowing railroads entry onto private property for the purpose of selecting the “most advantageous route for its railroad.” The Texas Constitution in Article I, Section 17 allows for the taking of private property with adequate compensation by an entity that is granted the right of eminent domain by Texas law. Opponents to the high-speed rail project are also concerned about such issues as its effect on private property rights and impact on the environment.
87th Judicial District Judge Deborah Evans granted a summary judgement motion to the plaintiffs last year stating that TCRI was not a railroad or interurban electric railway and thus did not have the power of eminent domain nor the attendant right to survey land.
In the Court of Appeals, Judge Nora Longoria, in her opinion for, wrote that TCRI is a railroad company under Title 5 of the Transportation Code because it is an “enterprise created and operated to carry passengers, freight, or both on a fixed track.”
Even though TCRI has yet to lay tracks or carry passengers or freight, it has taken many necessary steps “to be able to create and operate a railroad in the future,” like coordinating with regulatory agencies, conducting land surveys, and entering into purchase agreements. The Court also found that TCRI qualifies as an interurban electric railway under the Texas Transportation Code.
On the surface, at least for some of us, it might seem like semantics. Railroad or high-speed rail, it’s doing the same job. Right? Not quite. Plaintiffs argued that the legislature never intended high-speed railways, like Texas Central, to fall under the definition of “interurban electric railway” because it passed an entirely separate section of law concerning high-speed rail (HSRA), an act that has now been repealed.
This new rail seems pretty impressive with Texas Central Railway anticipating a 90-minute travel time between Dallas and Houston at speeds over 200 miles per hour. According to Texas Central’s website, the Dallas station will be in the Cedars neighborhood south of downtown. In Houston, the station will be in northwest Houston between I-10 and 290. One stop is planned in Grimes County that will include a direct shuttle to Texas A&M University.
According to the railroad company, the project will create 10,000 jobs during construction and 1,500 permanent jobs.
You know that we always like to chat about the dollars involved and here goes. Texas Central projects the cost of the project at $12 billion, but some estimates have the cost of the project closer to $30 billion. The project is currently funded by private investors, and the company’s website says it “will not seek grants from the US Government or the State of Texas, nor any operational subsidy once operation begins.”
Let’s see how this eminent domain news moves along. We’ll be sure to “track” it!
News around COVID-19 is seldom good and often it’s worse than we can even imagine. Such is the recent news of a group of homeless who took shelter in a bus during the subway shutdown from 1am – 5am for cleaning. Earlier in the week, the MTA launched the new cleaning program as a way to help combat the coronavirus epidemic.
During a recent cold snap, the MTA parked buses outside some subway stations to provide shelter from the cold and wet weather. A limited number of the buses were posted Saturday morning outside several end-of-line stations, including at the Stillwell Avenue station in Coney Island.
It turns out that there was only one bus, which was completely dark and unheated. According to reports, “windows quickly fogged up with the breath of 16 homeless men and women.” Watching the bus and the people were a small group from the Triborough Bridge-Tunnel Authority Police and city-contracted outreach teams from the nonprofit Bowery Residents Committee.
“The city needs to take care of this,” one transit worker commented. “We have buses,” he shrugged of the spare accommodations. “We’re a transportation company — this is what we got.”
The day before, when the subway was closed, it was reported that at 1am when the cleaning began that there were no outreach workers outside the Herald Square subway station.
“Given the forecast of unseasonably cold weather this weekend, the MTA during the early morning hours of Saturday and Sunday will be providing a limited number of buses at end-of-line stations,” interim transit president Sarah Feinberg and Transit Workers Union Local 100 president Tony Utano explained in a joint statement.
“We are providing these buses only during this cold snap and expect the city to continue to step up and take responsibility for providing safe shelter for those individuals experiencing homelessness. As we have stated many times, we are transportation providers, not a social services agency.”
The MTA issued a statement that they “have no plans to deploy any additional buses tonight or into the future. Ensuring access to shelter and social services for homeless New Yorkers continues to be a city responsibility.”
According to several news outlets, advocates for the homeless have complained that there is a lack of affordable housing for homeless people; and that the shelters are overcrowded and unsafe (making many homeless people reluctant to go to them). The City has promised to take all necessary action to remedy this problem, which has grown to uncontrollable proportions due to the COVID-19 crisis. Hopefully with the warmer weather coming, the virus will go away and NYC can get back to work. As always, we will keep you posted!
Photo: Sunnyside Post
Governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced that there will be a moratorium on evictions through August 20, 2020. As part of the announcement he also made a promise to offer relief to landlords which will come from the banks. This is all coming from pressure from tenant advocates. Landlords are probably not too pleased about this.
The moratorium applies not only to residential tenant evictions, but to commercial tenant evictions as well. There will be a ban on fees for late or missed rent payments during the moratorium, as well as the option for tenants to tap into their security deposits to pay rent. Those deposits would ultimately need to be repaid at some later date.
Cuomo says that there’s a “tradeoff between the tenants and the landlord” and that there’s a need to protect those who are “most vulnerable.” “We have to make sure those people are protected,” Cuomo said. “The number one issue people talk to me about, probably is rent. This takes this issue off the table until August 20.”
Tenants shouldn’t take this as a total pass. The moratorium does not cancel rent payments, and tenants are still on the hook to pay back their landlords for any missed payments. A landlord cannot legally evict a tenant until the measure expires, preventing renters who are suffering a sudden financial hardship from being forced into the streets during a pandemic.
We’ve also been hearing about how tenants are using their security deposit toward paying rent. This is also the case in New Jersey and Connecticut. But renters beware: Those deposits must be repaid within 90 days of their usage. And if the amount of the deposit is less than a full month of rent, tenants still owe the remaining rent due that month, according to the executive order.
What about relief for landlords who might struggle to make mortgage payments without rent revenue? Cuomo said that the state is working on it, and from the few details that we have it sounds like there will be new relief from the banks for landlords. Back in March, which seems so very long ago, New York State ordered that state-chartered banks give borrowers a 90-day break on mortgage payments. But the payments all become due during the fourth month, so there is not much relief there, as many borrowers have said.
As of right now, legislators have proposed a measure that would forgive rent and mortgage payments, rather than delay obligations. Technically, the eviction moratorium doesn’t prevent landlords from demanding repayment of rent and no one really knows what actions the state will take once the ban expires.
Even with the moratorium on evictions and the ability to use security deposits towards the rent, what will happen if people don’t find jobs in time? Is this just delaying a wave of eviction cases filed in the courts and the potential for mass homelessness?
We will follow this issue and keep you updated, as always.