Renewed interest in rail stems from U.S. dependence on foreign oil, decline of supplies, wildly erratic fuel prices and the high efficiency, safety and carrying capacity of passenger and freight by rail. And the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments now has a rail transit committee, which may somewhat counteract decades of rail neglect in Oklahoma.
Although there have been frauds by Burlington Northern Santa Fe/the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, the Surface Transportation Board allowed BNSF to "relocate" rail through the Union Terminal to a bypass line, the Packing Town Lead (PTL). Among results have been that rail traffic formerly free-flowing through Union Terminal via grade separated crossings, now awaits clearance from Fort Worth to cross the North Canadian River on the BNSF Red Rock line, and then travels adjacent to parks and playgrounds along the PTL through the low-income Capitol Hill area, with at-grade crossings. This traffic includes hazardous materials as before. Downgrading to at-grade crossings contradicts policy of the Federal Railway Administration, and safety issues are being considered at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.
Our Department of Transportation has applied for stimulus money for high-speed rail between Tulsa and Oklahoma City. We support rail travel at high speeds, but the application ignores rural communities and proposes use of the Santa Fe Depot in Oklahoma City without any analysis or even comment on implications of its elevation, parking space and track space, and interaction of Tulsa-OKC traffic with heavy traffic on the north-south BNSF Red Rock Line.
The MAPS 3 proposal includes a nod to public transportation by way of a trolley system for downtown Oklahoma City. But how can a proper trolley system be designed when the location of the major transportation hub has not been decided? And do we need a trolley system, or would less costly buses to meet trains be suitable, as in Paris, France, for example? It may still be cost effective to replace the rip-ups that have taken place through collaboration between ODOT and BNSF and to use Union Terminal as first planned in 1989.
There has been no study of suitability and cost of alternatives to the Union Terminal. The Oklahoma City Council has authorized a study by ACOG, but according to an ACOG spokesperson, that study will not start until next year!
The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce is one of the forces that has led Oklahoma City, now more than a decade behind other nearby cities including Dallas, Phoenix, St. Louis and Salt Lake City, in provision of public transportation, yet when Kessler called the Chamber to discuss this, he was told that it is Chamber policy not to discuss the matter!
What kind of government characterizes Oklahoma City, and what forces actually control and direct the Oklahoma Department of Transportation?
MAPS 3 is seriously premature.
"Tom Elmore and Edwin Kessler
Elmore, a Moore resident, is CEO of the North American Transportation Institute. Norman resident Kessler is vice chair of Common Cause Oklahoma.