Mapping out mass transit in OKC

Monday, September 22nd 2008, 2:49 pm
By: News 9

By Alex Cameron, NEWS 9

OKALHOMA CITY -- The future of mass transportation in central Oklahoma is still being mapped out and many believe we need to act now, or we'll lose a perfect hub for a mass transit system.

Oklahoma City's Union Station last saw passenger rail service in the 1960's, but there is growing talk of integrating commuter rails and light rails into the city's mass transit bus system. Some believe Union Station, with its expansive rail yard, would be the ideal hub for that intermodal system.

"This is one of the last remaining intact, union station facilities with its complete rail yard in the western United States," local rail enthusiast Marion Hutchison said.

At a hearing Monday at the state Capitol, local rail enthusiasts urged lawmakers not to make the mistake made elsewhere, where the building was preserved as a historic site, but not as a functioning train station.

"Union Station in Oklahoma City could still be both. It could be that wonderful historic building, but still function the way it was intended to," rail expert Garl Latham.

There's just one thing getting in the way, the I-40 Crosstown Bridge. The new Crosstown will run just south of Union Station. The building will be untouched, and at least one rail line will remain.

"We're making provisions for the Union Station to be used, maybe not to the extent that they're discussing," Oklahoma Department of Transportation Director Gary Ridley said.

What "they're discussing" is preserving the entire rail yard, by having ODOT shift a portion of the new Crosstown slightly to the south.

"Just a slight change of about 300 feet, you could build the Crosstown pretty much as planned, and you could save the rail yard and those connections," Hutchison said.

But ODOT officials said it's just not that simple. Moving the Crosstown would add to the project's $500 million price tag, and would add to the amount of time drivers will have to continue using the current crumbling Crosstown.

"I don't think it's a viable alternative at all," Ridley said

The Santa Fe station, which the Heartland Flyer uses, couldn't serve as the big transit hub because rail experts said it's elevated. There isn't room for expansion, and there's limited parking.

Rail supporters said they will continue to try and raise awareness about this issue, while lawmakers may hold another hearing on the topic later this year.