The Oklahoma Department of Transportation had an informal public meeting in Oklahoma City Thursday evening to gauge public opinion on whether the state should invest in passenger rail between Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
The project corridor extends on both north and south sides of Interstate 44, between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. The federal government provided ODOT with $3 million to conduct the study.
“So with the end result, we’re going to have an environmental impact study that’s done, and we’re going to have a service development plan,” said David Streb, ODOT director of engineering and an Edmond resident.
The purpose of the meeting was to inform people about the two-year process of the study that is due in 2015, Streb said. It’s too early for ODOT to reveal solutions for track alignment, cost and the number and type of trains, he said.
“We don’t have that yet,” Streb told The Edmond Sun. “Basically, we’re trying to engage people to sense if they’re interested in a train. Do they want to follow this process?”
Whether the train would stop in Sapulpa, Stroud or other towns along the route would be determined by the study, Streb said.
Richard Prawdzienski, of Edmond, said passenger rail is a money pit.
“The biggest benefit I see is that it gives the public choices if they don’t want to drive or can’t drive, and it’s not really efficient to take a taxi or a bus,” Streb said. “This rail could be good infrastructure. If the study ends up saying it should be a very fast train, and I don’t know if it will say that, then there’s opportunities for people way in the future to live in Oklahoma City and work in Tulsa.”
ODOT studies have concluded connectivity by train from downtown Oklahoma City to downtown Tulsa could range from 2.5 hours to 58 minutes, Streb said.
Streb said a key question to be answered in the study is, “What do I do for connectivity when I get there?”
A separate entity, the steering committee for the Regional Transit Dialogue 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.
The 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.
“From a state perspective, we would certainly rely on the region or the city to decide how do you get from that train station to where you need to be,” Streb said.
The OKC-Tulsa corridor study will build on the previous ODOT studies of improved passenger rail in the corridor, Streb said. The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 was set to improve passenger rail service as a national investment priority of the U.S. transportation system.
Congress appropriated capital assistance funds in 2009-10 for creating high-speed rail corridors and intercity passenger rail services.
Also, ODOT conducted the 2001 ODOT High Speed Passenger Rail Feasibility Study, the 2002 Oklahoma High Speed Rail Initiative: Oklahoma City to Tulsa High Speed Rail Corridor Cost Study, the 2010-2035 Oklahoma Long Range Transportation Plan and the 2012 ODOT Oklahoma Statewide Freight and Passenger Rail Study.
The Federal Railroad Administration issued a strategic vision in 2009 to define 11 high priority rail corridors, including the Tulsa-Oklahoma City corridor.
There is no state funding for the project, said state Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City. Ninety-seven percent of ODOT funding goes to roads and bridges, Morrissette told The Edmond Sun. “The rest of it is supposed to go to transit, alternative rail, etcetera.”
Morrissette said he spent nearly three years putting together a passenger rail task force studying the possible passenger rail connecting Oklahoma City to Tulsa.
“We’ve got the report. Why it isn’t here, I don’t know. It’s public knowledge,” Morrissette said.
Morrissette said he supports passenger rail, but high-speed rail is a bridge too far right now. Rail lines can be fixed and repaired at a reasonable cost, he said.
Oklahoma County Commissioner Ray Vaughn said he might favor passenger rail between the two cities if there also would be connectivity north to cities such as Kansas City, St. Louis and Chicago. Passenger rail going north from Oklahoma City is not available today.
“I think it’s very worthwhile to study the issue,” Vaughn said. “Having recently ridden a train to Fort Worth, I realize the value of that mode of transportation.”