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Officials to meet on state rail proposal

Officials to meet on state rail proposal

The Tulsa World

by: GAVIN OFF World Data Editor
Tuesday, August 04, 2009
8/4/2009 4:27:37 AM

Officials with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation will meet with members of the Federal Railway Administration this week to discuss the possibility of bringing high-speed rail service to Oklahoma.

ODOT Director Gary Ridley said the meeting would help determine how the department proceeds with its nearly $2 billion request in federal stimulus funds.

Last month, the department submitted a letter of intent to ask for $1.99 billion of the federal government's $8 billion pot of high-speed rail funds. A formal application for the money is due in mid-August.

Ridley said he envisioned high-speed rail in Oklahoma growing as the state highway system has done for the past half-century.

"It's going to become a bigger player than it is today," he said.

The department's letter seeks money to build a rail line connecting Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Texas. According to an ODOT release, the line's top speed between Oklahoma City and Texas would reach 90 mph. The top speed between Tulsa and Oklahoma City would reach 150 mph. Construction could start in 2010 and take six years or longer to finish, the release states.

Ridley said building a line makes sense because it would connect Oklahoma's metropolitan areas with Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. There are even thoughts to then connect Tulsa with a line to Kansas City or St. Louis.

But there are conditions.

"All of us need to understand that it has to be dependable, and it has to be affordable to the people who use it and it has to be subsidized," Ridley said.

He said ODOT's request could work in conjunction with Tulsa's desire to apply for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grants. The city, which is working with INCOG and ODOT, hopes to use the grants to build a new Interstate 244 bridge across the Arkansas River. The $150 million to $170 million span would carry train tracks beneath its westbound lanes.

The tracks could be used for freight traffic, local passenger traffic and possibly high-speed rail if Oklahoma is awarded the funds.

Ridley said it's still unclear whether ODOT and Tulsa would request grants for the I-244 bridge project. He said a rebuilt bridge would be ideal for high-speed rail traffic.

"Certainly, if you have high-speed rail in place, that is the bridge I would argue that would be used for the high-speed rail corridor," he said.

In other ODOT news: Commissioners delayed a vote to lower the speed limits along a portion of U.S. 75 until next month's meeting. The department is considering reducing the speed limit on U.S. 75 from 0.3 miles south of 141st Street to 0.3 miles north of 111th Street. The proposed change comes after the city of Glenpool asked for a speed-zone study.

If approved, most of that 3.6-mile stretch would see a 10 mph decrease, from either 65 mph to 55 mph or from 55 mph to 45 mph. Commissioners said they wanted more time to review the revision.

ODOT commissioners also praised a Rogers County project on Oklahoma 20 for becoming a national finalist for highway projects in the "On Time, Small Project" category of a contest sponsored by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

The April 2008 project consisted of rebuilding more than 500 feet of shoulder and guardrail after heavy rains washed a portion of the highway down Keetonville Hill.

The project was slated for 110 days, but Muskogee Bridge Co. finished the $7.2 million project in 38 days.

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