Passengers board the Heartland Flyer Thursday, March 22, 2007, at the Norman Depot. There is a campaign to extend the Amtrak passener service north to Wichita and Kansas City. Transcript photo by Jerry Laizure

Norman, Moore, Oklahoma City and Edmond residents were all abuzz with questions at the last of three hearings hosted by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation this Thursday in Oklahoma City’s Metro Technology Centers.

Each of the ODOT hearings have been open house in style, allowing Oklahomans to obtain information by asking questions and speaking with ODOT employees about the $3 million Federal Railroad Administration grant funding the study of a possible Tulsa-Oklahoma City corridor.

David Streb, ODOT’s director of engineering, said the main purpose of the hearings was to let people know the Tulsa-Oklahoma City Corridor Investment Plan’s process.  

An intensive analysis, the plan will not be complete until 2015 and will look at environmental impact as well as answer questions, including why people travel, where people travel and if Oklahoman residents would benefit from and utilize a passenger train.

Although the idea of a rail corridor between Tulsa and Oklahoma City is not new, this study will answer specific questions and allow ODOT to make a recommendation to the state based on cost and cultural and environmental impacts.

“This is the first time ODOT will be able to look at how a Tulsa-OKC corridor would impact our natural resources and communities along the proposed rail line,” Streb said.

Some of the hearing’s participants, like three-year Oklahoma City resident Alana Wood, were curious to find out if action would be taken and if a commuter rail system could become a reality.  

“I came out tonight because I want to see what they have to offer. I use public transit pretty often. I’ve taken the train from Oklahoma to Texas, and I would like to take a train from OKC to Tulsa,” Wood said.

Fellow Oklahoma City resident Nathan Wood agreed with her statement and said he would like to go to Tulsa for concerts or to Oklahoma City for basketball games by train. Both Alana and Nathan agreed that a rail line could open more possibilities for commuter travel, such as the addition of streetcars.

Other hearing participants, like Norman resident Edwin Kessler, are not in favor of the study being conducted by ODOT and want a rail line to be provided for the public immediately.

“Passenger service on the railroad tracks between Tulsa and Oklahoma City could have been provided years ago … the ODOT proposal is far too costly,” Kessler said.

Opinions like Kessler’s are not discouraged and instead are welcomed by ODOT.  Because a goal of the rail line study is to learn what Oklahomans think of a high-speed rail and whether they would use such a transportation system, participants at the hearing were given comment cards.  

ODOT Public Information Manager Brenda Perry said that as of Thursday’s hearing, comments had not been read, but because the study is so intensive, it is important for ODOT to hear from the public. The ODOT website will allow the public to comment on the Tulsa-Oklahoma City corridor for about one more month.

“Public feedback is important for future meetings and the direction of the study,” Perry said.

Until those future meetings with the public, Joe Gurskis, principal consultant for consulting firm Parsons Brinckerhoff, said the next step in the study is to conduct an alternative analysis to determine alternatives like that of engineering alternatives and rail line routes.

The close of Thursday’s rail line hearing was really the beginning for Oklahoma residents — a chance for residents to learn what a Tulsa-Oklahoma City corridor could mean for themselves and their families and understand that although ODOT may not have answers tomorrow, the million-dollar study may open the possibility for further connection within the state.

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