A letter from the director of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) to a federal board asking that board to "expeditiously issue" a ruling actually caused the ruling to be delayed further, according to an attorney.
The letter, dated Jan. 30 and sent by ODOT Director Gary Ridley to the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB), states that a pending decision by the board regarding a railway abandonment in the path of the proposed Crosstown Expressway relocation project is holding up construction and indicated $70 million in construction costs is at stake.
"If the department is to complete this vital relocation project in the affected area in a timely fashion, it must have clearance to proceed with the next segment of the project by March 2009," Ridley wrote. "The contract at issue involves approximately $70 million in construction costs. "¦ We ask now that the board expeditiously issue its decision."
However, Fritz Kahn, a Washington, D.C., attorney who represents several entities opposed to the Crosstown relocation project, said the letter reopened the case for review as well as for competing filings, almost certainly ensuring a delay.
"That letter that was submitted on behalf of ODOT, though it was intended to urge the agency to render a decision, will have the practical effect of slowing things down," Kahn said. "They (the STB) will now have to take that letter into consideration. (Opposed groups) responded, I responded "¦ so, all those will need to be dealt with."
Kahn estimated Ridley's letter could delay the STB's ruling by several months.
Ridley denied requests to be interviewed by Oklahoma Gazette.
David Streb, ODOT director of engineering, said Ridley only meant to facilitate a ruling from the STB. He said Ridley and ODOT didn't intend for the letter to be treated as a filing in the case, although the letter was posted on the federal board's Web site as a document in the case.
"We had no intention, nor do we feel it was a filing. It was just a reminder letter to illustrate that the STB ruling, the timeliness of it, could have impacts of us moving forward on the Crosstown Expressway," Streb said. "It was just a reminder of the critical nature of the Crosstown Expressway, the desire to get that open in 2012. "¦ It was just a reminder that we have a large construction project pending, based on the outcome of the ruling. It was just to point that fact out."
The question before the board concerns a rail line situated in the proposed path of the $600 million Interstate 40 Crosstown relocation project. In June 2008, the STB ruled documents filed by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway claiming the line had not been used for two years " a requirement before a rail line is cut " were false. The board reopened the case and groups opposed to the relocation's proposed pathway filed numerous disputes to block construction.
COMMUTER RAIL PATHWAYS
Marion Hutchison, communications director for one of those opposition groups, Oklahomans for New Transportation Alternatives Coalition (OnTrac), said ODOT plans to pave over the numerous commuter rail pathways behind the Union Station, thereby making a new commuter rail system in Oklahoma City almost impossible.
"They made assumptions there would be no public abandonment process and they just moved forward. That is not the case," Hutchison said. "They are desperate and did this without approval, and now they are trying to pull a rabbit out of the hat "¦ Ridley sent this letter saying they were about to lose funds. "¦ I think it shows the concern at ODOT. They are very worried."
Streb said the $70 million project being held up by the proceedings is the pouring of concrete over the rails behind the station. However, he insisted that the money is not necessarily going to be lost, but that the project will be held up.
"We have a large construction project in progress that will probably be in excess of $70 million dollars. It involves the semi-depressed section in the area behind Union Station," he said. "We're getting close to the point that, in order to hold our 2012 opening date, this will have to come to resolve fairly soon or our ability to open the new Crosstown Expressway in 2012 may be compromised "¦ it will build the foundation for the new Crosstown Expressway right behind Union Station." "Ben Fenwick