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Line item: Rail money may not make much of a dent

Line item: Rail money may not make much of a dent

This article first appeared in The Oklahoman.

April 21, 2009

The president’s promise of billions of dollars for high-speed rail service has excited those who have long pined for such a route between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. That euphoria may be misguided.

President Barack Obama announced last week that $8 billion of the $787 billion economic "stimulus” package will be used for potential high-speed rail projects. The Federal Railroad Administration has identified 10 such projects around the country, including a corridor that includes Oklahoma City, Tulsa, San Antonio, Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin and Little Rock.

Cities and states will need to apply for the money, and the Oklahoma Department of Transportation says it is "totally positioned and ready” to do exactly that. Let the rejoicing begin!

Except, it was only a few weeks ago that ODOT officials and engineers told a legislative committee that it could cost $2 billion just to pay for the infrastructure for a high-speed track between Tulsa and Oklahoma City — and then, the railway would need a state subsidy each year to operate.

If ours was one of a couple of regions where Obama was planning to spend high-speed rail money, that would be one thing. But there are 10 corridors on the railroad administration’s to-do list. It might be optimistic to believe ours would get even $1 billion, which would of course have to be split among the other corridor cities. So the prospects of a gaping funding hole are real.

But hey, let’s not let reality get in the way of a good dream.

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