The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

3 January 2006

Challenging the Crosstown

Some of my mumblings from last spring:

I took a spin over to Union Station, 300 SW 7th, which isn't the easiest place to get to in this city. (Robinson south from downtown, then hang a right on 7th.) In the hands of the Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority, the station is serving as, well, not much of anything these days. (Amtrak's Heartland Flyer stops at the old Santa Fe depot north of Reno on E. K. Gaylord.) Virtually all of the vintage rail infrastructure is still viable, were the city to pursue a light-rail transit system, although it's scheduled to be trashed once I-40's Crosstown route is rerouted literally through the old railyard. ODOT, of course, insists that "the integrity of [the station] will be maintained".

[Note: The first link in the above paragraph has been changed from the original post.]

Ground has been broken for the new road, but, as Zen master Yogi Berra might have said, it ain't over 'til it's over. I missed this last week — apparently it was in the Norman Transcript — but Doug Loudenback exhumed it for OKCTalk.com. Dig this:

A Washington, D.C., attorney, working on behalf of several central Oklahoma organizations, has filed a challenge to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation's Crosstown highway relocation project by objecting to the legality of BNSF Railway Company's line abandonment.

If the 2.95-mile stretch is permitted to remain abandoned, said Fritz Kahn, an attorney working on behalf of Common Cause Oklahoma, North American Transportation Institute and the Bio-Energy Wellness Center in Oklahoma City, construction would be allowed to proceed on a 10-lane Interstate 40 extension.

Backing organizations claim that to make way for the construction much of the infrastructure that would allow for the future development of a rail system would be destroyed, including a direct route to Will Rogers World Airport from Union Station in downtown Oklahoma City.

The NATI is Tom Elmore's group, which has been fighting this alignment of the Crosstown for years. I'm not even going to ask what the Bioenergy Wellness Center, which is a holistic-medicine/acupuncture place in the Asian District, is doing here.

The legal wrangling began Nov. 7, just days shy of the BNSF's approved abandonment date, when Kahn submitted a formal protest to the Surface Transportation Board. Though the line abandonment was approved in late November, Kahn has kept up his effort to fight the Surface Transportation Board's decision. Most recently, Kahn submitted documents to the board Dec. 23 detailing company names and situations he claims directly contradict BNSF's statements that the abandoned lines weren't used by local traffic.

"I came in on the 24th hour," Kahn said. "But what we were saying is that the notice to abandon the line should be vacated ab initio, because it contains false and misleading information."

John Bowman, project manager for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, said a main line and a spur will be allowed to remain at Union Station. Additionally, Bowman said, a Union Pacific rail line will be moved south of the station to allow for the installation of a second useable line in the event passenger rail activities return.

ODOT's argument has been that if we really want rail transit, well, we've got the Santa Fe station right downtown, though there is an abundance of neither track nor parking in the vicinity of the Santa Fe, and there'd still be the need to coordinate with Amtrak.

I'll say again what I said then:

I have my doubts that there ever will be a light-rail transit system in central Oklahoma, but I am quite sure that if there is, it will cost a lot more than it would had the Union Station railyard been left alone.

Which, of course, may be the whole idea: to make it too expensive to consider.

Posted at 6:16 AM to City Scene