The high-speed rail that will soon connect Houston, Texas with Dallas has been mentioned previously here in REVITALIZATION. It’s an exciting project that will help bring America’s shameful passenger rail service out of its current “third world” status.
Texas Central is the company that’s developing the new high-speed train from North Texas and the Brazos Valley to Houston. In Texas style, the project is backed by private investors, not government grants. Texas Central and its affiliated entities will be responsible for the system’s design, finance, construction, operation and maintenance.
But building new transportation infrastructure—especially on a large scale like this—inevitably creates some negative impacts on the natural areas through which it passes. Traditionally, some of this damage is offset via wetland mitigation, often with a mitigation ratio that recognizes that constructed wetlands seldom have the ecological value of natural.
Depending on the state, developers might have to create two, three or more acres of new wetlands for every acre they destroy. In fact, it was wetland mitigation that largely gave rise the the environmental industry in the United States, as documented in The Restoration Economy (Berrett-Koehler, 2002).
On February 4, 2019, Texas Central announced that they have selected Resource Environmental Solutions (RES) as the project’s provider of ecological mitigation services to help protect and restore natural ecosystems throughout the project’s construction and operations.
RES is the largest ecosystem restoration provider in the United States. Its unique operating-company model is scaled to cover the project lifecycle from end to end, all with in-house teams and project financing capacity. RES offers turnkey, land-based projects that build natural resilience into ecosystems, enabling them to thrive in step with economic growth.
Operating out of its Houston offices, RES will oversee plans to comply with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) requirements that the project restore, enhance and preserve wetlands, streams and environmentally-sensitive habitats along the train’s route between Houston and North Texas.
RES has led several high-profile projects across the state and nation to safeguard local flora and fauna and the sensitive ecosystems they inhabit. RES will help Texas Central meet or exceed regulatory requirements for environmental mitigation, and it proactively will collaborate with community leaders to identify local and regional conservation opportunities. Over the past decade, the company, in projects across the country, has restored more than 58,000 acres of wetlands, enhanced more than 290 miles of streams and planted more than 14 million restorative trees.
“The elite team of ecologists at RES will help safeguard local ecosystems, and this is one more example of our approach to protect the land and wildlife in a delicate manner. As Texans, RES understands the importance that Texans place on preserving the natural beauty of our great state, and we are confident that this systematic approach to restoring and preserving sensitive ecosystems will result in widespread improvements across the region and beyond,” said Texas Central’s Bill Tucker, the project delivery director.
RES joins a team of global leaders designing and building the Texas train, and it will be responsible for protecting the natural beauty of Texas while also equipping the state to be economically competitive in the 21st century.
“We believe that by engaging with partners dedicated to low-impact design and development, it’s possible to achieve both environmental sustainability and advanced infrastructure,” said Elliott Bouillion, CEO of RES. “The Texas high-speed train is an excellent example of how a modern, green infrastructure approach can be harnessed for both ecological and economic benefits.”
RES will develop a far-reaching plan to rebuild and restore wetlands and streams in the impacted watersheds as part of a comprehensive mitigation strategy. Preliminary ecological planning calls for stream and wetland restoration, enhancing the viability of several sub-watersheds close to the route.
Brian Trusty of Dallas, vice president of the Audubon Society, praised the move to bring on RES. “At Audubon, we believe the project is a win-win opportunity for both Texans and the wildlife in our state,” he said. “Providing large-scale transportation opportunities that work to reduce carbon emissions, while supporting further economic prosperity and connectivity between the Dallas and Houston metro areas, is progressive and forward-looking. Partnering with RES ensures the project will be done right, and we are thankful to see Texas Central take this step.”
The project’s scale will allow RES to identify not only isolated pockets along the route that require restoration, but also entire complexes of streams and wetlands suitable for improvement and conservation. Specifically, RES will select mitigation sites and designs that collectively improve the ecological functions of broad areas, including some near the Trinity River, Navasota River, Spring Creek and Cypress Creek.
RES will help ensure that project meets or exceeds all environmental mitigation requirements and enhances local ecosystems and communities. This will help strengthen and connect wildlife habitat corridors, improve water quality along the route and increase flood resiliency. That work will be in collaboration with the USACE, which has solicited public comments on the Section 404 application now under review for the project.
The company’s experience and Texas roots give it the expertise to support all aspects of the project, such as working with landowners, regulators, local communities and others. This approach has earned it respect from the environmental industry, and its work creating a mitigation area for Louisiana’s Maurepas Swamp was honored this year by the Environmental Business Journal.
Other prominent projects have included the Bois d’Arc Lake Mitigation Area, the largest permittee-responsible mitigation project in US history. This mitigation project supports a 16,600-acre reservoir being built in Fannin County to provide critical new water services to 80 communities in North Texas, and the restoration area encompasses more than 8,500 acres of wetlands, 70 miles of streams, 3,200 acres of native grasslands and 2,600 acres of non-wetland forests.
Additional work includes the Brooks Creek Wetland Mitigation Bank in Bowie County and the Robinson Fork Stream Mitigation Bank, the largest floodplain restoration project in the northeastern United States.
This environmental work, combined with innovations of the all-electric high-speed train system, will provide the most environmentally friendly travel choice for journeys between Houston and North Texas. The train is estimated to remove more than 14,630 cars per day from interstate 45, offsetting emissions in an area covering four counties that are in air quality nonattainment status.
Among other benefits:
- As compared to highway development, for every one mile of high-speed railroad tracks, about 450 acres of farmland will be preserved;
- The all-electric system will utilize the latest in green technologies, such as regenerative braking systems;
- Texas will use the newest generation of Shinkansen trains, the N700 Supreme, which consumes seven percent less energy and weighs seven tons less than the previous model. Lighter trains result in less noise, vibration and impacts on materials and land; and
- The route largely follows existing rights-of-way corridors, resulting in the fewest possible impacts to socioeconomic, natural, physical and cultural environments.
As outlined in the company’s safety and environmental policies, “Texas Central is fully committed to establishing a culture that provides the greatest care for the Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) of those working on the project, creating a safe system for future operations and maintenance, and catering to the needs of people in communities where we work and of course for you as passengers of the railroad.”
The project, besides offering seamless, safe and convenient travel between the nation’s fourth and fifth largest economies, will create an estimated 10,000 jobs each year of construction, and some 1,500 full-time jobs when operational, while generating a range of indirect economic benefits upon completion.
All images courtesy of Texas Central.