Wednesday, July 15, 2009

In France.."Those who ask, eat." ODOT finally asks (for rail funding).

When I was on my senior trip a few years ago, me and my parents went to France, which is a country I like to joke about a lot. That aside, they have some really great sayings there. One of the biggest culture shocks is that in Paris people are NOT clamoring to provide a million expensive services to you, in fact, they make it a pain in the ass. When you sit down in restaurants, a waiter will not automatically greet you and all that good stuff, but you have to ASK to eat and literally hail a waiter. "Those who" I actually like that because it is very similar to life, where the only way usually to get what you want is to ask for it, something most Americans do not understand.

For years we've all been complaining about the state of public transit in Oklahoma, and the simple fact that we need to invest way more than we currently are, into the system. This goes true for the city level, state level, and the federal level, which oddly enough for most municipalities that do things right, federal money is the key ingredient. Well, no more (hopefully). ODOT made the first step towards, for the first time ever, formally requesting federal funding for a bona fide Oklahoma high-speed rail link. Not only will it extend the Heartland Flyer up to Tulsa, but it will also include massive upgrades for the existing Heartland Flyer at least down to the Red River, if not all the way to Fort Worth, enabling the entire system to be high-speed.

Top speeds between OKC and Fort Worth would reach 90 mph and an average of over 60 mph (currently the top speed is 79 with an average of 50), while top speeds between OKC and Tulsa would reach 150 mph and an average speed of over 110 mph. This is the future. No longer will Amtrak service for Oklahoma only go to Fort Worth, and no longer will Tulsa be the largest city in the nation not served by Amtrak.

ODOT's cost estimates for the project come in just under $2 billion, a fraction of the $13 billion in federal funds Obama has identified in order to get the ball rolling on high-speed rail. If approved (which in all likelihood, it will be approved for funding, it's just a matter of it covering half of the cost or more, or all..even though the application does NOT require a state match) work could begin in 2010 and riders could be on the system by 2016, which IMO is a pretty aggressive timetable--the kind of thing I like to see for long-overdue projects such as this. Helping the likelihood funding will be secured, is that the ODOT proposal follows exactly what the Obama administration laid out for the South-Central Corridor.

I'd also like to remind folks that we would already have light rail in OKC if a certain former (local!) Congressman had not blocked federal funding that we surely would have gotten to supplement Maps 1. To that extent, it's nice to see that state agencies are once again being proactive in attempting to secure federal funds that as we can see with the Stimulus (not to mention all the other cities that got fed $$ for rail), are just there for the taking.


Steve said...

Very well written for someone your age! But anything that expands or puts money into Amtrak is not a good idea. In its entire history, it has never been able to support itself without government subsidies. It's time for it to go away altogether, except in dense urban areas (i.e. the east coast). And just because other states take the so-called stimulus money that now put our national deficit at $1 Trillion for the first time in our nations history, doesn't mean it's the right thing to do.

Walker, Downtown Ranger said...

Thanks for your comment Steve! You're completely right that Amtrak is subsidized by the federal government, but so is everything else, especially..especially auto transit. Every time I drive up to Tulsa, there is a massive state subsidy, and I still pay $3.50 each way!

In fact, the maintenance of our roads (which you can see our state does an amazing job of) is so expensive that the funding formula would boggle your mind: 100% of the state's transportation money goes to maintenance, meaning that we can't even build a new road without getting federal money.

Considering the plunder that is income tax and every other tax the feds collect, cashing in on federal funding for projects we can't afford doesn't seem too bad to me!

Auto transit isn't just subsidized like that. It's also subsidized by government bailouts when American automakers can no longer be profitable, and by anyone who owns property who has to include parking with their property, and so on. Auto transit was revolutionary in 1900, but a hundred years later it is no longer sustainable, economically, let alone in other ways. I think at least adding better mass transit infrastructure along with our road infrastructure is the non-communist way to advance transit to where it needs to be.

Steve said...

Auto transit is a great topic, but that turnpike you refer to is under a turnpike authority ... not directly a government program if I understand it correctly - more like a non-profit?

And I've always thought roads and the military are the best things for government to be involved in. And as conservative as I am, I'll defend government/authorities and their relationship with roads in Oklahoma. We have lots of land that need roads, but generally a small population to pay for it. If we want to have people travel through our great state (which is smack dab in the middle of the country) then 44, 35, and 40 need to be well maintained. Remember when the bridge at Weber Falls was destroyed by a wayward river boat?! The quickness that was repaired goes to show how important it is to keep our roads in tip-top shape.

I'm going to like following your blog!