Don't be afraid of the price tag.
That's what commuter and light rail proponents in Oklahoma City are urging citizens and stakeholders to do as discussion continues on commuter rail possibilities.
Last month, Rep. Charlie Joyner, R-Midwest City, and other proponents, discussed commuter rail service in the state with representatives from the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), Texas-based Trinity Railroad Express and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway.
The costs, logistics and process of bringing a fixed guideway into the state could mean a hefty price tag, but according to rail fans, the payoff far outweighs the cost.
"We keep talking about Oklahoma City being a big-league city, but there is no way for us to be big-league unless we offer every form on transportation. Commuter and light rail are essential," said Dave Herbert, Gov. Brad Henry's liaison for light rail. "We have the only professional sports team in the country that doesn't have commuter rail service. We need to fix that quickly."
Herbert readily admits that creating a light or commuter rail service in the state could cost "billions," but said every city committing to it sees a big return.
"People are afraid of the size of the investment that must be made, but we're looking at a return of 10 times the amount of that investment," he said. "You see increased local and state tax revenue, property values increase, new construction increases and jobs are created."
Bill Farquhar with Trinity Rail Express provided the Oklahoma delegation with the pros, cons and logistics of creating a fixed guideway, but added the economic impact was immense.
"We've seen a big economic impact " a positive economic impact " here," Farquhar said. "The development that occurs around the stations is a perfect example. Not only do you get the dry cleaners and daycares and restaurants, but high-end urban housing as well."
The DART system released a study by University of North Texas economists that projected more than $4 billion in economic impact from the 45-mile Dart Rail expansion. The economic growth, along with the existing DART Green Line expansion, is expected to top $5.6 billion through 2014.
In addition, the expansion is projected to create 6,400 jobs each year for the next five years.
"People always say, 'Look how much commuter rail costs,'" Farquhar said. "If you study this, you find a commuter rail line can easily handle one lane of freeway traffic " 2,100 people an hour. Think of the cost and the time to add one lane of freeway in each direction from, say, Edmond into downtown Oklahoma City. That's the tradeoff."
At the U.S. Conference of Mayors, held this summer in Oklahoma City, Sam Adams, mayor of Portland, Ore., echoed the economic impact numbers, saying the cost of developing Portland's new downtown streetcar system expansion was $125 million. He added the economic development that occurred totaled $3.5 billion.
During the 2010 legislative session, Joyner was a proponent of legislation that allowed cities and counties to form a "transportation authority" for construction of a system, like a rail system or turnpike. He added that plans are in place to create a "demonstration" line, allowing citizens to experience commuter rail in the coming months. Several Trinity Rail Express cars would be used to run a limited line from Edmond to Oklahoma City in order to give commuters a taste of taking a commuter train.
"It would carry passengers that would normally ride the bus system to work in downtown Oklahoma City," Joyner said. "Heide Brandes
photo State Rep. Charlie Joyner left and Dave Herbert stand before the Amtrak Heartland Flyer at the Santa Fe Depot. Photo/Mark Hancock