The Norman Transcript

Local news

October 16, 2009

City's light rail hopes get boost

Although the odds are pretty steep, The City of Norman's prospects for landing a commuter rail service significantly improved after the Oklahoma Department of Transportation included the city in its grant application seeking stimulus funds to expand the state's passenger rail service.

Mayor Cindy Rosenthal said during a city transportation committee meeting Thursday evening she learned from ODOT Secretary Gary Ridley last week that a line between Oklahoma City and Norman was recently added to the agency's plans, which had originally focused on adding a second line from Oklahoma City to Tulsa.

She said the prospect is unique and exciting, regardless of how fierce the competition is among states for the roughly $8 billion in stimulus funds reserved for passenger rail improvements.

"The whole issue of metro-wide transit is more visible than ever," Rosenthal said. "And there has never been this type of money available before."

Rosenthal said she's cautiously optimistic about the city's chances because stimulus projects typically have to be shovel-ready.

She said double-tracking between OKC and Norman would fall within property owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe and that the railroad company is "very cooperative and supportive" of the prospect. Documents obtained on ODOT's Web site confirm the mayor's statements.

Because BNSF owns the land the second rail line would run on, a lot of the red tape that usually accompanies projects like this wouldn't be an issue -- meaning the project is virtually shovel-ready, Rosenthal said.

Rosenthal said the city should know within "three or four months" which projects the federal government will fund.

Andrew Knittle 366-3540 aknittle@normantranscript.com

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