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En route


Will the downtown streetcar route take shape in time to dovetail with Project 180 construction? Or is it moving too fast?

Clifton Adcock February 16th, 2011

The creation of a route for the MAPS 3 modern streetcar project took another step toward reality after the project’s oversight subcommittee unanimously approved a preferred partial route.

The route is not set in stone, and is not the complete streetcar route under the MAPS 3 project, subcommittee members said.

MAPS 3 is a $777 million capital improvement program, paid for by a 1-cent sales tax approved by voters in December 2009. Approximately $125 million of those funds will be set aside for the downtown streetcar.

The measure does not send the preliminary route up the chain for the MAPS 3 Citizens Advisory Board’s approval, but does lay out some streets the subcommittee wishes to protect in coordination with other city projects.

Much of the early route falls within boundaries of Project 180, a large-scale redesign of downtown streetscapes. City officials and subcommittee members have said that failure to coordinate the two projects could result in millions of dollars wasted if recently redesigned streets are ripped up in order to make way for the streetcar rail.

The second phase of Project 180 begins this summer, and streetcar subcommittee members were hoping to lock in a possible route before then.

The route approved at the MAPS 3 subcommittee meeting Feb. 8 protects some of the corridors endorsed by the subcommittee members and allows MAPS 3 staff and consultants to better coordinate efforts between the two projects.

“It (approval of the preferred route) sends a signal, not just to staff and AA (the alternatives analysis steering committee), but to the public about where we stand, right now, on the basis of implementation,” said subcommittee member Mark Gibbs.

MAPS Program Director Eric Wenger also said the approval was a big step for the subcommittee.

“For us, it’s huge coordinating with Project 180,” Wenger said. “Obviously, our goal has been to minimize the utility impacts, so if we can find some opportunities to do that with their recommendations, that’s our goal.”

However, some at the meeting questioned the wisdom of the preliminary route’s western leg, which extends from Fourth Street to Sheridan, along Walker Avenue. Blair Humphreys, a fellow at the Institute for Quality Communities at the University of Oklahoma, said he felt the western leg was intended to serve the bus station nearby, which lies fairly close to the proposed main route.

According to early estimates, the 1.1mile diversion from the proposed main route could cost up to $20 million, and that money would be better served sending a line into the neighborhoods north of downtown, Humphreys said.

“The western leg simply doesn’t make sense,” Humphreys told the subcommittee members. “I don’t see what’s being gained.”

Subcommittee member Jeff Bezdek said the western leg may come down to the City Council deciding whether it wanted to pay extra for the route, while subcommittee member Debbie Blackburn said she believes the western leg arose from political pressure.

“There are a lot of people who felt that needs to be served, and we’re trying to respond to it by preserving the route,” Bezdek said.

Humphreys urged the subcommittee to submit the route they thought would be best, regardless of political pressure.

“Stick to your guns. All you get is one recommendation, so you may as well take the holistically best system you can offer and give it to them,” Humphreys said.

“I don’t think a lot of us disagree with what you’re saying,” Blackburn said. “We hear you.”

Bezdek said the body should begin looking at the route’s stop locations, in order to coordinate with Project 180, and other members said the group should slow down.

“I think that’s jumping way ahead,” said subcommittee member Jane Jenkins. “I’m willing to vote that we’re adopting this map as a starting point, but I don’t know that this is where we’re going to end up. I still think we need to slow this process down. I think there are a lot of things out there, and I think we’re moving way, way too fast.”

Bezdek said the subcommittee would waste millions of dollars if it proceeded too slowly.

“So what?” Jenkins said. “I’m sorry, I think we can come back and do that later. Wasting millions of dollars as opposed to making a mistake? I think we’re moving too fast.”

Jenkins said before going further she wanted the subcommittee to review transit projects currently being studied, as well as get more input from planning and transit professionals.

Subcommittee chairman and MAPS 3 Citizens Advisory Board member Nathaniel Harding tried to quell the disagreement by asking that the subcommittee members enjoy the progress so far.

“Let’s take a step back and take a deep breath and say we’ve taken care of the thing that needed to be taken care of immediately,” Harding said. “Now we’re just going to talk about ideas and brainstorm.”

 
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