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Tulsa, Oklahoma City would help finance high-speed rail system

Tulsa, Oklahoma City would help finance high-speed rail system

The Journal Record

October 8, 2009

OKLAHOMA CITY – Tulsa and Oklahoma City municipal governments said this week they will help the state Transportation Department finance the operation of a high-speed intercity rail service if the federal government provides $2 billion in initial funding.

The department asked for letters from the cities to bolster an application submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration to develop a railway corridor from the Texas state line to Tulsa. The Transportation Department is asking for $2 billion out of an available $8.2 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.

If the application is approved, construction could start as early as 2010, department Engineering Director David Streb said, and would take six years to complete.

The department’s plan would make high-speed rail service available from downtown Oklahoma City to downtown Tulsa along the I-44 Turner Turnpike corridor. Improvements to the route would include overpasses, acquisition of equipment and new signaling.

“High speed” means the top speeds between downtowns would exceed 150 mph, with an average speed of about 110 mph, Streb said. In other words, a trip between the two cities would take less than an hour.

Improvements to the existing Heartland Flyer route are also included in the plan, and would include rail crossing safety upgrades, passing track, a double track from Oklahoma City to Norman and switch improvements along the route. Top speeds on the Heartland Flyer route between Oklahoma City and Texas would be about 90 mph, with an average speed of more than 60 mph.

The Transportation Department didn’t ask that a specific dollar amount be committed by Oklahoma City or Tulsa, Streb said, only that the cities express their support for maintaining a line that would be invaluable in economic development.

“No commitment in dollar amount, no commitment in timeline,” he said. “Just an in-theory, principle agreement that should this high-speed rail be implemented and Oklahoma be selected, that we would be turning to the city for financial partnership.”

The department also received letters of support from BNSF, Union Pacific and Amtrak.

In 2001, when there were 10 high-speed rail corridors recognized nationally, Oklahoma legislators ordered research be done on the potential of a corridor between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Ultimately, the route became part of the nationally designated South Central High-Speed Rail Corridor, Streb said, improving Oklahoma’s chances for approval now.

“Now that there’s actually money in Washington, all the sudden that information is priceless,” he said.

Mike Randall, Oklahoma City’s manager of stimulus fund recovery, said that although the high-speed rail plan doesn’t include a reference to the city’s intention to develop a light-rail system, there’s potential that the lines would interact in some way. Oklahoma City residents will vote in December on a $777 million package of tax-supported projects, which includes a fixed-rail trolley in the center of the city. City officials also are applying for other federal funds toward the development of a metro-wide rail system.

“Development of high-speed intercity rail service clearly enhances Oklahoma City’s goal to increase the travel choices of its citizens, both within the municipality and throughout the region and the state,” Oklahoma City Manager Jim Couch said in his letter to the Transportation Department. “Business growth and increased tourism would clearly promote economic development.”

Now department officials can only wait for word from the Federal Railroad Administration. No estimate of time has been given for the selection announcement, but all indications are that it will be after the first of the year, Streb said.

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