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If you build it, they still might not come

If you build it, they still might not come

This article first appeared in the Edmond Sun.

Nick Massey
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND March 31, 2009 10:33 pm

In the 1989 movie “Field of Dreams”, the theme was, “If you build it, they will come.” Some have tried to apply that same theme to a number of downtown Edmond projects, including the proposed downtown pedestrian bridge, 142 parking spaces south of Second Street, and infrastructure for an extended Heartland Flyer. Unfortunately, this is not Hollywood. We should be saying, “If and when you come, we’ll build what we need to support it.”

Apparently I offended Downtown Edmond Business Association President Karen Morton recently with my reference to the “Bridge to Nowhere.” Actually, that is not my phrase; it is someone else’s. I don’t think downtown Edmond is “nowhere” and I doubt most other people think that either. My wife and I love downtown Edmond and agree with all the points that Karen Morton made about it being a historic and special place that should be supported.

As for parking, we go downtown all the time, including the Farmers’ Market, and have never had any trouble parking. On occasion, we have had to park a block or two away when big events were going on, but I don’t see why that is such a big deal.

The “bridge to nowhere” is a funny phrase that came into being a few years ago when referring to a pork barrel project to build a bridge to a small island in Alaska. Since then it has become a popular term for many dubious projects and someone used it recently in a debate about the bridge spanning West Edmond Road.

The “nowhere” most people are referring to is the parking lot on the south side of West Edmond Road just west of Broadway. Perhaps we should call it the “bridge to 142 unnecessary parking spaces that we can’t afford right now and should postpone until better times or when needed” bridge.

But that’s not a very catchy phrase so we might have to live with the shorter one. I am certain of one thing, though: If the residents of Edmond had the opportunity to vote on the bridge now, it would be overwhelmingly defeated.

The real problem seems to be that every time there is a discussion about spending taxpayer money on downtown Edmond, someone tries to frame the debate in terms of “for” downtown or “against” downtown. While that could be the issue for a few people, most people I know, including myself, are all for a vibrant and successful downtown. The issue is not whether you are for or against downtown, but whether a project makes economic sense and should have taxpayer support, whether it benefits Edmond as a whole and when is the best time to spend the money. With difficult economic times upon us, and more on the horizon, I don’t think now is the time to be funding “nice to do but not essential” projects.

There are higher priorities, such as the police station and other essential service and infrastructure projects. These “nice to do” projects can be done in the future when times get better. I don’t know about you, but I would not want to look our Edmond Police Officers in the eyes and say we thought it was more important to build a bridge, parking spaces and a softball park rather than a badly needed police station for our community.

Tim Tillman made the point that, “The parking spaces south of Second Street are needed to support a revamped bus system, a possible Amtrak commuter train stop and a vital park-and-ride location.” That is just not going to happen in this economic environment.
The Heartland Flyer went into service between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth in 1999 as a joint venture between Amtrak and the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. It was funded by a $5 million government grant (earmark/pork) won by then-Sen. Don Nickles. It was out of money until the states of Oklahoma and Texas agreed to subsidize it. Both states spend $4 million annually on the program.
No segment of Amtrak is making money anywhere and it is all being subsidized by the federal government. Even the East Coast Amtrak lines, where usage is the heaviest, are losing money.

With those facts in mind, what do you think is the likelihood of Oklahoma, Kansas or the U.S. Congress spending money it doesn’t have to extend the train to Kansas? Even with that, Edmond is not assured a stop because we are only 15 miles from the downtown OKC historic depot. If somehow a miracle happened and it was approved, there will be plenty of time to build whatever is necessary long before the train ever stops in Edmond.

NICK MASSEY is an Edmond resident and owner of the Householder Group Estate & Retirement Specialists. He is a regular business columnist for The Edmond Sun.

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