The Edmond Sun

July 15, 2013

Commuter rail study on track

Edmond work group meets at chamber

James Coburn
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — Community leaders formed a north corridor stakeholders work group meeting Monday to provide local input for the CentralOK!go Study. This study is a collaborative effort of the Regional Transit Dialogue Steering Committee.

The RTD steering committee oversees the $1.25 million “Commuter Rail Corridor Analysis” conducted by URS Corporation for the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments. RTD is specifically looking at commuter rail as the most likely option for the metro and not light rail, the committee pointed out in January.

RTD has discussed three rail corridors that could 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.

Stakeholder meetings and meetings for the public are in the process of being scheduled to address each corridor separately. An audience of about 30 people was divided into groups Monday afternoon.

“Governance and funding goes to the primary question of whether it can be done,” said Victoria Caldwell, city councilwoman and Edmond’s appointee to steering committee.

One of the goals of the RTD is to maximize connection of major activity centers in the region, said Diane Cowin, CentralOK!go Study spokesperson. An example of enhancing regional connectivity would be providing transit between the University of Central Oklahoma to Chesapeake Energy or downtown Oklahoma City, Cowin said.

“We thought maximizing the regional participation was really important,” said Randy Entz, transportation planner for the city of Oklahoma City. “Plus getting a buy-in from the people in the region — that’s going to help with funding and everything else.”

 The group liked the idea of supporting economic development with a return on investment, Entz said.

The Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) has generated an additional $128 million for the City of Dallas in annual tax revenues and $4.5 billion in property value increases, according to the RTD.

DART is an example of light rail, which differs from commuter rail. Light rail runs on dedicated electric tracks on a special right-of-way, Hutchison said. Powered by diesel and electricity, the Heartland Flyer is an example of commuter rail running on existing freight tracks.

Light rail is more expensive to construct than commuter rail at a cost of $60 million to $80 million per track mile. Commuter rail costs $8 million to $10 million per mile, Hutchison said. This all-encompassing cost includes maintenance, acquiring right-of-way, laying down the track and operating the system.

To build a light rail system between Edmond, Oklahoma City and Norman would cost $2 billion to $3 billion, whereas a commuter rail system would cost only $200-300 million, according to the RTD.

Mayor Charles Lamb said Edmond’s dynamics are progressive with growth. The group he participated in considered the commuter rail as being separately governed from the city’s already established CityLink commuter service.

Federal and regional funding for the project is essential for the project, said Larry Stevens, city manager.

“The template around the country is you’re not going to be able to provide funding without a regional, i.e. tax authority,” Stevens said.

RTD 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, according to the plan.

 A ballot issue would be needed to take to voters for a dedicated funding source, according to the RTD. Dedicated funding would allow the expansion of bus systems as well as building a hub with a commuter rail system. | 341-2121, ext. 114