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Engineering change

This dark horse candidate for OKC mayor has transit on his mind.

Kelley Chambers February 12th, 2014

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is part of a series of interviews with Oklahoma City’s 2014 mayoral candidates. Check okgazette. com for last week’s interview with Mayor Mick Cornett, and stay tuned for more.

It’s no secret to Phil Hughes that he has little chance of being the next mayor of Oklahoma City. He has no website. With the primary less than a month away, he has done no fundraising. He has no campaign events planned, and he has no formal endorsements.

But Hughes is a registered candidate and is interested not as much in winning the seat as he is in raising awareness for his causes, chiefly rail and transit projects.

An electrical engineer by trade, Hughes, 61, is a University of Oklahoma graduate and worked for energy firms in Oklahoma and Houston before returning to Oklahoma City in 1995. His only previous run for office was a failed state Senate bid in 2002.

Hughes, founder of Hughes Synergies Corp., has strong opinions about the direction of some of the city’s projects in its Metropolitan Area Projects Plan. He admits he liked the first MAPS, which passed while he was living in Texas in 1993, and the more recent MAPS for Kids, as well as MAPS 3 funding approved by voters in 2009.

“I’ve been in favor of all the MAPS programs, beyond any doubt,” he said. “I don’t have any objections to the progress thus far.”

Hughes strays from MAPS supporters, however, when it comes to plans to construct a $252 million convention center. In 2013, consultants Populous and GSB Inc. recommended the convention center be built on a former car dealership site bordered by W. Reno Avenue, the future boulevard and S. Robinson and S. Walker avenues.

If elected, Hughes said convention center plans would be put on hold.

“The first thing I would do is put a 10-year moratorium on the convention center,” he said.

His first concern is that the approved site is not the best place for the center. He would like to see it built about two blocks east, where the Cotton Producer’s Oil Mill sits south of Bricktown. He said the approved site, facing a MAPS-funded park, should be used for other developments and the construction of skyscrapers.

Another plan would have been to retain the old Interstate 40 bridges and create a path for a metro rail system and a pedestrian walkway from Bricktown to the OKC Farmers Public Market, 311 S. Klein Ave., that would tie into rail hubs at both sites. The bridges are gone, but he still would like to see the route as a transit path.

“It would allow pedestrians to traverse between Bricktown and the Farmers Market,” he said.

To make that plan happen, however, would require repurposing the Bass Pro Shops store in Lower Bricktown, 200 Bass Pro Drive. The land is controlled by the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority. It was built in 2003, and Bass Pro Shops has a 20-year lease with the authority. Under Hughes’ plan, a new building for the store would be constructed elsewhere in Bricktown.

“Bass Pro would be converted to a train station and we would build another facility for Bass Pro,” he said.

He also wants OKC Farmers Market to serve as a train station. However, he said he has not received a response from the owner of either facility that they would be willing to vacate so one may be built.

His far-reaching plan would provide a metro rail system loop downtown. He would also like to see trains that could travel up to speeds of 70 mph to take people from downtown to points across the state.

By his estimates, the system would cost about $5 billion, which he would hope to receive as a grant from the International Monetary Fund and from sources outside of the United States. The IMF most notably works with “developing nations,” according to its official website, but also helps foster worldwide development.

Hughes said he is running to give people an alternative viewpoint to civic issues, transit issues and solutions for the continued consumption of oil and gas. He said there is a lot of misinformation on MAPS and transit issues that he would hope to clear up as mayor.

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