By James Coburn
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Metro drivers at rush hour experience traffic congestion when time is money, and rail transit gives other cities a competitive edge.
Such was the message of the Regional Transit Dialogue Steering Committee (RTD) when it met this past week in downtown Oklahoma City.
“The decisions that we make are going to be very important and affect people for a long time to come,” Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said.
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, said Hollie Massey, special programs officer with the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments. Stakeholder meetings and meetings for the public will be scheduled to address each corridor separately.
Oklahoma City ranked last among the 50th largest metro areas as best prepared for $4 gasoline, according to a 2008 study by Common Current. Oklahoma City ranked 84th out of 100 metro areas in serving the transit needs of its work force, the Brookings Institute reported in 2011.
“Economic success in the 21st century means making a region attractive for an educated work force,” said Marion Hutchison, a citizen member of the RTD II Steering Committee.
Rail transit is about economic development. Rail transit raises property values and tax revenue, supports retail districts and accelerates urban renewal, Hutchison said.
Energy efficient rail transit improves the quality of life with cleaner air, he said. People enjoy urban life without being dependent on an automobile, Hutchison said.
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, he said.
The RTD steering committee oversees the $1.25 million “Commuter Rail Corridor Analysis” being conducted by URS Corporation for ACOG. RTD is specifically looking at commuter rail as the most likely option for the metro and not light rail, Hutchison said.
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.
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