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Spurned station

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The Union Station rail yard, 300 S.W. Seventh Street, Oklahoma City, was strategically located and virtually irreplaceable, an enormously valuable asset — purchased during the Bellmon administration to use as an ideal intermodal rail hub for regional rail transport.

That was the situation before culprits destroyed the rail yard and removed the railroad tracks leading from downtown to the Will Rogers World Airport, tracks which also linked the state’s major cities and military installations.

Shawnee, Norman, Chickasha, El Reno and Lawton passed resolutions in support of saving the rail yard. These city councils objected to running the relocated Interstate 40 Crosstown Expressway straight through this rail yard when sensible alternative routes existed.

Every time I drive from south Oklahoma City downtown, I see the construction of the new I-40 Crosstown that has paved over the Union Station rail yard with asphalt.

That’s when I remember how our so-called leadership pushed for destruction of the rail hub: Mick Cornett, mayor of Oklahoma City; Gary Ridley, former executive director of the Oklahoma Asphalt Paving Association and present Oklahoma Department of Transportation director and the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber.

All three wrote letters in July 2008 to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board asking that the rail line running through the Union Station rail yard and connecting Oklahoma City with the Will Rogers World Airport be abandoned. For example, OKC Mayor Mick Cornett wrote:

“It is the City’s position that the expeditious abandonment of the east-west (Burlington Northern Santa Fe) rail line be achieved in order for the realignment of the I-40 Crosstown Expressway to be completed in a timely manner.”

Since Cornett had already spoken for the Oklahoma City Council in that letter, there was no way for informed, articulate OKC citizens to persuade council members to save the state’s valuable rail asset.

The biggest culprit was Ridley.

Department personnel have a “highwaysonly” vision and decided about 10 years ago to run a highway straight through the rail yard.

The unstated effect, of course, will be to suppress rail competition.

True, ODOT held public meetings regarding destruction of the rail yard, but the meetings were so straitjacketed and controlled that no meaningful public participation occurred.

—Wanda Jo Stapleton Oklahoma City

Stapleton is a former Democratic state representative.

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