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Mayor: Tulsa not on hook for rail funding

Mayor: Tulsa not on hook for rail funding

by: BRIAN BARBER Tulsa World Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
10/14/2009 3:35:48 AM

Mayor Kathy Taylor assured city councilors Tuesday that the cash-strapped city has not committed any money or resources in support of the state's application for federal stimulus funding to pursue a high-speed rail line.

Some councilors became worried after learning about a Sept. 30 letter from Taylor to Oklahoma Secretary of Transportation Gary Ridley in favor of the state's $2 billion request that would fund a rail line between Tulsa and Oklahoma City.

Taylor wrote that Tulsa is "willing to be a financial partner in this endeavor."

But she said during Tuesday's council committee meetings that the letter doesn't obligate the city to anything specific.

"It's not a firm commitment," she said. "It's just a letter of interest."

Tulsa's chief risk officer, Cathy Criswell, added: "Financial support could be as much or as little as the council chooses, if the grant was received. It could even be non-funding type of support such as being accommodating in our projects for the high-speed rail to go through."

Councilor Rick Westcott, who has been a vocal advocate for rail, said he was concerned that Tulsa appears to be "on the hook for an undetermined amount of money."

The city has imposed layoffs and furloughs this fiscal year because of plunging sales-tax revenue, and Taylor said last week that $3 million more in cuts will be needed because of the faltering economy.

Taylor told councilors, "You are in control of the purse strings here."

The state Department of Transportation has requested nearly $2 billion in federal stimulus money to build the Oklahoma City-to-Tulsa line.

The federal government has allocated about $8 billion for high-speed rail projects, and Oklahoma's share, if granted, would come from that. Officials expected an answer in early 2010.

Although the bulk of Oklahoma's possible money would go toward building the line north of the Turner Turnpike, funds also are proposed to go to improving the Heartland Flyer line between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth.

Many specifics about the plan are undetermined, such as how the line's maintenance and operations would be subsidized.

ODOT Director of Engineering David Streb has said it would cost about $22 million a year to operate the line, which he said would likely include a partnership with the state and the two cities.

Brian Barber 581-8322

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