Oklahoma City's Crosstown Expressway, an elevated portion of Interstate 40 that zips (or sometimes crawls) past downtown, is going to be relocated about half a mile to the south; the old route will be torn down and replaced with some sort of "boulevard." According to ODOT, the price tag for all this was supposed to be something like $236 million, almost entirely in federal funds; then-Congressman Brad Carson, in a radio interview, said that the whole thing could be financed by the Federal Highway Trust Fund. Sounds like taxpayer money to me.

Downtown boosters, seeing an opportunity to scrape away some of the scuzzier areas just south of downtown (and, not incidentally, expand their turf), have generally embraced the New Crosstown, and their acceptance of ODOT's proposed realignment has been somewhere between uncritical and overly enthusiastic. Even I could possibly see the point were there some actual threat posed by the Old Crosstown. Yes, it's in less-than great shape; yes, it's carrying more than its design load. (In the 1960s, when this road was built, 70,000 vehicles a day were anticipated; today it's carrying half again as many.) But pavement is fixable, even in Oklahoma, and if the elevated portion were indeed dangerous, you'd think there'd be weight-limit signs at each end. There aren't.

More ominous, in the press release announcing the project, is the bald statement that this particular scheme is "the best way to handle the ever-growing I-40 traffic load with the least impact on the affected area." What about Union Station's rail yard? Nothing to see here, move along, says ODOT:

Union Station will not be directly impacted by the construction of I-40. The new interstate will be constructed to the south of the Union Pacific line, allowing the interstate and railroad to provide transportation services in the same corridor. The integrity of the Historic Train Station will be maintained as the Union Pacific line and will remain in place allowing it to serve as a passenger rail station if desired. The design will allow adequate space between the Union Pacific line and Union Station for a slip track for passenger loading.

Um, yeah. There's just one thing: there's already accomodation for passenger loading, for rail lines reaching throughout the Oklahoma City metro area. The new I-40 alignment reduces this to, well, room for a slip track.

In his State of the City address for 2007, Mayor Cornett came up with this:

Now, public transportation means different things to different people. There is inner city transportation around the core of downtown. There is commuter transportation that might get someone down NW Expressway or up Shields. And then there is the growing number of people that live in Edmond or Moore or Norman or Choctaw or any number of suburban cities who work in Oklahoma City. And there is certainly a tourism aspect to public transit. When you start sorting all of these opportunities into one idea, it becomes massive, it becomes complex, and it certainly becomes expensive. Over the past two years, we have completed an exhaustive, futuristic look at transportation in our community. The plan includes four distinct methods of public transportation: Bus Rapid Transit, Commuter Rail, Downtown Streetcar, and enhanced Bus Service.

Commuter Rail, Mr. Mayor, sir, is going to cost you (and us) a hell of a lot more if you rip out the Union Station railyard: you're going to have to build it all over again at the BNSF/Amtrak terminal, or somewhere else. And we don't have the bucks for it, what with $236 million going to the New Crosstown.

Except that it won't be a mere $236 million. Tom Elmore's National Advanced Transportation Institute, in a press release today, said this:

"ODOT's most recent number $557 million is probably still low. There is absolutely no reason to believe the experts at ODOT didn't understand what the real cost would be from the outset; we certainly did but our concerns were dismissed by ODOT officials as alarmist," commented Elmore. "As it works out, we and our associates were the only ones telling taxpayers the truth."

And the beat goes on:

Elmore noted that every single concern expressed by his organization about the New Crosstown has plainly now been shown to be legitimate. "We said the project would cost easily double what ODOT claimed. We were right. We said the crush of prospective freight traffic on the north-south BNSF line served by the Santa Fe depot would preclude its use as a rail transit center. Today that line is at capacity. We were right.

We said the highway project would irreparably cripple OKC Union Station whose terminal building was purchased by Metro Transit in 1989 with a federal transit grant to be the region's transit center. ODOT and even the State Historic Preservation Office said "no negative effect." We were right. They plainly simply lied.

Yes, I've griped about this before. If I have to, I'll do it again.

The Vent

  8 February 2007

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 Copyright © 2007 by Charles G. Hill