The Edmond Sun

March 22, 2013

Next steps on tap for Norman-Edmond rail

James Coburn
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — The Regional Transit Dialogue Steering Committee met recently to discuss goals for a downtown Oklahoma City intermodal hub to link commuter transit to Edmond, Norman, Midwest City and Tinker Air Force Base. The City of Moore is also part of the conversation, Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said.

RTD plans to create a Regional Transit Authority. RTA would be represented by elected or appointed officials to develop a plan to operate the transit project.

“The purpose of this project is to go through and analyze the three corridors that came out of the 2005 Fixed Guideway Study System Plan. It would have the highest density for transit,” said Diane Cowin, RTD project coordinator with URS Corporation.

The new study also will look at how to leverage federal transportation dollars for the project. 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. Voter approval will be needed for the project.

“Now we are really working on looking at the economic development benefits that move forward. How can you value the existing communities that are there?” Cowin continued.

A locally preferred plan will require providing two rounds of public meetings to build trust and commitment among stakeholders, she said. These public involvement meetings, one in each corridor, should be communicated in a timely and transparent manner, Cowin said.

“We will listen to each community and respond with straight-forward and honest answers, keeping in mind and respecting the differences of each corridor and the community they serve,” she said.

Twenty-two major employers in downtown Oklahoma City are shared by all three proposed corridors, Cowin said. More than 52,000 employees work downtown. Downtown Oklahoma City has more than 7,600 residents.

The north-to-south corridor connecting downtown Oklahoma City to Edmond is 14 miles, said April Manlapaz, URS transit consultant working on the Edmond corridor.

Population density figures within a 3-mile buffer of existing transportation corridors are being used in planning, Cowin said. BNSF, which passes through Edmond, wants to have a full double track for all of its two main lines to Texas. That’s what they would require, Hutchison said.

The 2005 Fixed Guideway Study projected Edmond’s population within the buffer area to increase 22 percent by 2035 with employment estimated to increase by 25 percent. Manlapaz pointed out these ACOG-based figures do not take into account the construction of transit rail. Edmond’s downtown area will continue to be dense, along with areas near the Kilpatrick Turnpike, Manlapaz said.

“So if we were to believe that creating the line would create population growth and employment growth, then the numbers would be even larger,” Cornett said. All projection on population and job growth are only estimates, Cornett said.

“Our metropolitan area is changing so dynamically, it is hard to have any degree of certainty of what those numbers are going to be like at the rate of growth,” Cornett said.

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