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Commentary
 

Point: Streetcar route a beginning


Jeff Bezdek October 16th, 2013

It has been more than 66 years since Oklahoma City had meaningful intracity rail transit. In 2009, voters took a huge leap toward our transit future by endorsing a $130 million-dollar downtown rail-based modern streetcar system and intermodal hub as part of MAPS 3.

The framework for Phase 1 of the streetcar system has now been approved. This initial route will connect civic treasures, institutions, major employers and new housing downtown, reinforcing the significant economic engine that drives sales tax revenue benefiting our entire city. In addition, we are in the process of acquiring the historic Santa Fe Depot to serve as our region’s epicenter for all future rail transit activity.

The streetcar and intermodal hub are the first MAPS 3 projects to generate a dramatic return on the public dollar. The streetcar project has received $2.1 million of a $13.6 million federal grant. The remaining $11.5 million will be used for improvements to Santa Fe Depot. The streetcar project has also received additional federal funding to study expansion beyond the initial core route.

On the regional transit front, Mayor Mick Cornett is leading a planning committee of mayors and councilors from Edmond, Moore, Norman, Del City and Midwest City examining restoration of intercity rail transit. Future rail modes will intersect with the MAPS 3 Streetcar at Santa Fe Station.

Further, Councilman John Pettis Jr. is working with the MAPS 3 Transit Subcommittee to study potential rail ser vice through Ward 7. This rail line would connect central Ward 7, Remington Park, the softball complex, the Oklahoma City Zoo, the OmniPlex and other locations to the downtown streetcar and Santa Fe Depot in the near future.

These steps to restore rail transit create a glaring contrast with our city’s insufficient and underfunded bus system. Councilors and advocates proposed bus improvements for MAPS 3, but they were considered premature, as a complete restructuring of the bus system was anticipated after the vote.

Today, those needed changes are beginning to happen. Bus frequency and consistency improvements are planned for early next year. An automated bus location system, new stops, more shelters and better signage are being installed. Potentially, federal funds may help add more shelters.

We have a great deal left to do.

Frankly, bus system improvements and rail transit development cannot happen fast enough. We need to broaden our ability to pay for expanded operations and maintenance for both bus and rail.

Operations and maintenance funding for the streetcar and Santa Fe Depot are being evaluated and include advertising revenues, fare collection, parking revenues, leasing space and a potential Business Improvement District.

There are attempts to turn the transit issue into a political football. A great deal of misinformation has been propagated. That’s unfortunate, as it creates unnecessary divisiveness and undermines our efforts to create a first-class transit system for all of our citizens.

Our committee is dedicated to building exactly what the voters were promised in the most efficient and effective way possible. We only can do this with your support, working together.

Jeff Bezdek is president of Bezdek + Associates and a member of the MAPS 3 Transit Subcommittee.

Opinions expressed on the commentary page, in letters to the editor and elsewhere in this newspaper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ownership or management.

 
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