The Edmond Sun

January 31, 2013

Committee considers Regional Transit Authority

James Coburn
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a series of stories on regional transit issues.

Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett asked the Regional Transit Dialogue Steering Committee (RTD) if there is a consensus that one agency should be responsible for all metro rail and buses.

Citylink in Edmond is one of the service providers that offers transit in the metro area. A question to answer is whether a Regional Transit Authority would contract with current service providers or offer to provide transit itself, Douglas Rex of ACOG said at a recent RTD meeting.

Three rail corridors are suggested in the study including a link to the $120 million modern street car system being constructed with an intermodal hub in downtown Oklahoma City. RTD calls for the hub to link Edmond, Norman, Midwest City and Tinker Air Force Base.

Edmond City Councilwoman Victoria Caldwell said the City of Edmond knows that two federal funding sources for Citylink will be going away.

“So now is kind of the time to be looking at how we are going to replace that funding,” Caldwell said. “We’re looking at it as a city, but now would be the perfect time to look at rolling it all into one authority.”

The 2012 federal transportation bill changed how allocations are being made. The formula based on regional density works against the Oklahoma City metroplex, Rex said.

“We don’t have a lot of ridership when compared to some of the larger cities,” he said.

University of Central Oklahoma Vice President Steve Kreidler pointed out that the City of Edmond Downtown Master Plan takes into account a possible railroad station being studied for an area south of Edmond Road and east of Broadway. The city already owns property on Third Street including a police storage facility, parking lot and the former Edmond Senior Center. This general location also is planned as a transfer station site for the Citylink bus service.

Learning from MAPS

Scientific polling of the metro community would help identify public interest in the project, said Roy Williams, president of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce.

“The political animal that is involved here is equally compelling and important to the actual building of all this stuff,” Cornett said.

When considering the history of MAPS, Cornett said MAPS and MAPS 3 were streamlined approaches involving a sales tax to rejuvenate downtown Oklahoma City.

“It was real easy to communicate and decide yes or no. This reminds me more of MAPS for Kids,” Cornett said.

City leaders had to unite school boards and principals of 24 school districts, Cornett said.

“Even if people aren’t directly involved, you can’t have them out expressing negativity about it, and put your arms around this giant entity called education,” Cornett continued. “Here it’s transportation and city councils all over the place.”

There will be opposition to anything that requires taxation, Cornett said. So the project will require tremendous consensus building, he added. There are buses but no rail lines going through northwest Oklahoma City, he said. RTD is considering bus systems feeding into rail.

“All this planning and talk is wonderful, but if there’s no money at the end of the day, it’s just planning and talk,” Cornett said.

Building a commuter rail system between Edmond, Oklahoma City and Norman would cost $200 million to $300 million, said Marion Hutchison, an appointed citizen member of the RTD II Steering Committee. He is also chairman of OnTrac, a not-for-profit rail transit public interest organization.

Setting goals

“In the end you’ve got to figure out how you’re going to govern it and how you’re going to pay for it,” Hutchison said.

“I would suggest that there’s probably a question you have to ask before that — whether you want to do it at all,” Rex said. “Part of the work we’ll be doing in the next 18 months will help us determine that through surveying tools to get public reaction to what we might end up doing.”

A short-term and a long-term timeline for the project is being studied. The RTD will set goals in areas of governance, legislation, coalition building, finance, public education and marketing, Rex said.

The committee is focusing on creating a Regional Transit Authority. RTA would be represented by elected or appointed officials to develop a plan to operate the transit project. A ballot issue would be needed to take to voters for a dedicated funding source, Hutchison said. Dedicated funding would allow the expansion of bus systems as well as building a hub with a commuter rail system.

“It would be my hope that by the end of this RTD second phase, that we could accomplish reaching a consensus on this,” Rex said.

The RTD committee members are needed to form coalitions before a ballot initiative is made, Rex said.

A vision to benefit future generations

Kreidler said it is important to remember city leaders 40 to 60 years ago made visionary decisions that they did not have to make.

“They did not have to build Stanley Draper Lake or Lake Overholser at that time,” Kreidler said. “Edmond and Norman are cities that built great reservoirs long before they were needed.”

In December, Russell Evans, executive director of the Steven C. Agee Economic Research & Policy Institute at Oklahoma City University, told the Edmond City Council that there’s a viable chance that Oklahoma City is poised to boom with economic growth in the coming decade.

How Edmond plans its piece of the economic pie could impact the prosperity of Edmond residents for generations to come, Evans said.

Of seven well-defined megalopolis areas in the U.S. in terms of population, Oklahoma City is part of the third fastest growing megalopolis extending on Interstate 35 from San Antonio to Oklahoma City and beyond to Kansas City. More than 1,000 people a month are moving to Oklahoma City.

“The RTD is not just about rail. It’s about bus, rail transit. It’s about bigger bus systems. It’s about service for everybody,” Hutchison said. Tinker Air Force Base has expressed interest in the project, Hutchison said.

“If Tinker were to say ‘This is a priority for us’ — that would matter,” Cornett said. | 341-2121