NORMAN — Editor, The Transcript:
We have read about rebuilding the intersection of Norman’s Main Street with Interstate 35. The latest article, in The Norman Transcript on Sunday, Jan. 6, states that the project costs $35 million, but there has been no discussion in the newspaper of an important related issue.
The annual budget of Oklahoma’s Department of Transportation is about $1.7 billion, and virtually all of this is devoted to roads and highways and associated administrative costs. It is good to build and maintain roads and highways, but a good system of public transportation is also important and reduces usage and costs of roads and highways.
Oklahoma lags far behind several other states and cities, including Dallas, Denver, Albuquerque, Atlanta and Salt Lake City, which have fine systems for public transportation already in place. For example, Salt Lake City has 60 trains daily between its downtown and Logan, Utah.
There is a rail line owned by the state of Oklahoma between Tulsa and Oklahoma City. It formerly carried passenger trains with extensions to several other cities, but today it carries only freight. For about $50 million, this line could be improved to carry several passenger trains daily at speeds up to about 79 mph, along with freight trains. Passenger trains would stop at several intermediate stations, and there would be local economic benefits. This line was the subject of recent meetings by the Tulsa-Oklahoma City Task Force, enabled by the legislature in 2011.
To some of the task force members, and to the undersigned observer, the meetings seemed to be a mechanism for enabling further discussion of an already much-discussed issue, rather than action. This is reflected in its majority and minority reports. The Oklahoma Department of Transportation does not need legislative approval for its expenditures. It could give a higher priority to public transportation by rail all by itself, just as it does presently for roads and highways.
In addition to activation of passenger trains between Tulsa and Oklahoma City, Norman would benefit greatly by implementation of commuter rail service to include Norman and other municipalities along the existing line, now used by about 45 freight trains daily and by the single passenger train, the Heartland Flyer, between Oklahoma City and Ft. Worth, Texas. This would call for some double-tracking and additional costs. Oklahomans should be demanding such services, which would reduce and perhaps eliminate need for rebuilding the Main Street/I-35 connection in Norman, reduce usage of gasoline — which is a depleting resource with associated climate-changing emissions — and enable more time for doing business or relaxing during daily journeys to and from Oklahoma City and others.