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How Navasota dodged the bullet - train that is

September 06, 2023 - 00:00
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One of my Examiner contributions is the content for This Week in History. This assignment requires me to peruse the Examiner’s big blue books for headlines of Grimes County news events for the past four decades. Can you imagine my surprise a week after writing “Railroaded Again?” and ”The Crucifixion of Grimes County,” I turned to the Sept. 9, 1993, edition and saw this headline - “City in high-speed train corridor!”

I knew Grimes County residents had dodged one bullet train before I became a property owner in 1994. What I didn’t know was the train’s path could have wiped out the neighborhood in which I now live. Eminent domain becomes a little more personal when you read that your future abode might have been bulldozed down.

Former Examiner publisher Hank Hargrave provided excellent week by week, meeting by meeting coverage of Navasota’s near-derailment, documenting how our city and county leaders responded. There’s no doubt, had this gone a different way, Navasota as you and I know it today, would NOT exist.

Now for the Cliff Notes version. The privately funded Texas TGV, a French American consortium, was franchised to build the Texas Triangle project to connect Texas’ three major metropolitan areas. Based on an independent survey by a Massachusetts company, TGV projected ridership to be 14.4 million in 2010, the train would make $618 million in 1991 dollars “with a 26-percent share of the traveling public.”

The Texas High Speed Rail Authority (THSRA) had extended TGV’s deadline to Dec. 31, 1993, to come up with $170 million in secured funding of the $6.8 billion projected construction cost.

According to Hargrave, the route in question had been changed to lessen rural opposition and the Texas Triangle from Dallas/Fort Worth-Houston- Austin/San Antonio “turned into an inverted Y” after adding stops for Bryan, College Station and Waco. That didn’t bode well for Navasota, but it wouldn’t be the last time Grimes County would become the sacrificial lamb for the benefit of B-CS.

The line was slated to enter Grimes County south of Stoneham and follow FM 362 to SH 105. Hargrave wrote that it “proceeds down the SH 6 loop and serves as its center line. In other words, the proposed ‘bullet’train line could be placed anywhere 1 mile east or 1 mile west of the bypass road.” This raised the ire of Navasota and Grimes County leaders as the new route created an economic development nightmare for both residential and commercial interests.

According to Hargrave, those in railroad limbo included Whitehall, St. Martinsville Church, Fairview Cemetery, land for St. Patrick’s/Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church and Navasota Junior High, Navasota High School, Navasota Livestock Auction, Beard-Navasota Veterinary Clinic, Grimes County Fairgrounds and Expo, Salem First Baptist Church, Annie’s, Austiana Hill subdivision and the land purchased only week before for McDonald’s.

On the west side of the bypass were Walmart, the Navasota Library, the Navasota Regional Hospital, Navasota Elementary, John C. Webb Middle School, Brookshire Brothers, Mid-South Electric Cooperative, the Cedar Creek project, Industrial Park II, historic homes and residential neighborhoods.

City and county leaders who met with TGV and THSRA included former Navasota Mayor Bill Miller, former Navasota Grimes County Chamber Director Jane Miller, Father Norbert Maduzia, former County Judge Larry Snook, late Realtor Betty Jane Burlin and then-State Representative Kevin Brady. As our U.S. Congressman, Brady would have our back 20 years later against Texas Central Partners’ high speed rail land grab. Kudos go to the 100 property and business owners who came to the meetings and exercised their right to be heard.

By the end of 1993, TGV’s financing plans “self-destructed” when the plan to offer $200 million in euro notes for an equity stake failed and an Idaho-based company pulled out.As Dec. 31 neared, County Judge Larry Snook advised landowners to “remain diligent” but said he was “confident the death of the bullet train is just a matter of time. It’s simply a countdown between now and Jan. 1.”

Where high speed rail is concerned, many Grimes County residents hope to see history repeat itself.

The column represents the thoughts and opinions of Connie Clements. Opinion columns are NOT the opinion of the Navasota Examiner.

Clements is a freelance reporter for the Navasota Examiner and an award-winning columnist.