The Shawnee News-Star
  • Rail proposal gets another look

  • Shawnee city commissioners took another look Monday night at the resolution regarding support for rail transit systems involving Union Station in Oklahoma City, but chose not to make changes to their resolution despite efforts by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.Commissioners reconsidered their vote...
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  • Shawnee city commissioners took another look Monday night at the resolution regarding support for rail transit systems involving Union Station in Oklahoma City, but chose not to make changes to their resolution despite efforts by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.
    Commissioners reconsidered their vote taken Oct. 6, so ODOT and Oklahomans for New Transportation Alternatives Coalition officials could present their sides of the story for the preservation of Union Station rail yard and the implementation of the Interstate 40 Crosstown Expressway.
    Mayor Chuck Mills said the adoption of the resolution was to be harmless and voice Shawnee’s support for rail service to Shawnee now and in the future.
    The conflict for the two entities is that ODOT plans to relocate the I-40 expressway through the rail yard. ONTRAC officials want to preserve the yard and move the expressway south about 300 feet. ONTRAC’s hopes are to preserve the rail yard, so it will serve as a hub for transit and freight rail for central Oklahoma.
    ODOT Secretary Phil Tomlinson said the resolution was passed by city commissioners before ODOT officials could provide information on the repercussions of moving the expressway. He said any shift in the plans would have an adverse effect.
    Tomlinson said the expressway is expected to be completed 2012, and by shifting it south, it would cause a five- to eight-year delay and cost about $300 million.
    ONTRAC Chairman Charles Wesner said $300 million is “far off the map.” He said the movement would take an additional six months, costing about $20 million more than current estimates.
    ODOT Director of Engineering David Streb said by moving the expressway south, it would affect a Latino community, a church and park.
    “By moving it, the park and possibly the church, go away,” Streb said, adding it would be awkward to stop the project once it is halfway completed.
    Streb said to have the existing bridge to go beyond the 2012 deadline would be asking a lot. He said every day there is potential of concrete falling from the bridge.
    Streb said ONTRAC is wanting to save Union Station, but the station isn’t at risk. He said the implementation of the crosstown expressway would leave room for one track and room for two tracks to be used for passenger rail.
    Wesner said the idea from ODOT is to have one main track for freight and two tracks for passenger rail, but “that doesn’t make a hub.”
    He said the available rail would only be a north/south line, not an east/west access.
    “There will be no access for you,” Wesner said.
    Commissioner Carl Holt said Shawnee residents don’t want anything to happen to the rail access to the community and Shawnee fall by the way side. He said there are industries in Shawnee that rely on freight rail.
    Page 2 of 2 - Tomlinson said ODOT is conscientious about freight rail service across the state. He said the resolution Shawnee adopted speaks to transit rail, not freight.
    “That’s an issue that came up here (Shawnee),” Tomlinson said.
    Commissioner Linda Peterson said the discussion began because Shawnee freight users concerned about future service should the crosstown expressway plan be implemented. She said Shawnee officials need to be able to go to companies to ensure they will have adequate rail service in the future.
    “We have passion here. I promise,” Mills said, referring to resident involvement in rail discussions.
    Wesner said freight rail will be an important part of the process, because an upgrade to passenger rail service will improve freight rail service.
    Mills questioned why Shawnee was approached so late in the game. Crosstown expressway plans began in 1996, but ONTRAC officials approached city officials a couple months ago.
    Wesner said the group has been advocating for 12 years, but it has had a struggle getting communities to back them.
    “But here we are,” he said. “We are still going because the rail yard is still there.”
    Wesner said residents started giving attention to the idea of commuter rail and Union Station serving as a hub when oil prices jumped.
    Shawnee residents voiced their opinions during the discussion. Residents said their concerns aren’t about creating a statewide transit system.
    “This is about the city of Shawnee as far as I’m concerned,” said Shawna Turner, who has voiced her passion about saving and improving rail service in Shawnee. “Rail is truly important to each of us.”
    Shawnee resident Jim Townsend said rail held a prominent position with ODOT in the past, but “today it’s a stepchild.”
    Townsend said Shawnee has six industries that use rail. He said those industries are suffering because the railroad is dilapidated.
    He said Pottawatomie County would benefit from commuter rail by bringing residents to area casinos and transporting residents to Tinker Air Force Base. Townsend said Tinker will have a hard time competing with other Air Force bases if there isn’t commuter rail service available.
    Shawnee commissioners voted to repeal the decision made to support the rail transit system, but the motion did not pass because commissioners voted 5-2. By not passing, the city’s resolution remains in place to support the rail system.
    Peterson said if the commission decides to make changes, commissioners can return to the issue to make amendments.
    Amanda Gire may be reached at 214-3934.

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