Cars to rail is culture shift

2016 September 30
by OnTrac

From The Norman Transcript | By Joy Hampton | Published: September 21, 2016

What tipping point will push Oklahomans out of their cars and into public transit? That was the primary question discussed Tuesday night during a public meeting hosted by the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments.

ACOG is hosting a number of meetings throughout the region to get input on its Encompass 2040 Metropolitan Transportation Plan for Central Oklahoma.

“There’s a lot of diverse work that goes on at ACOG, but transportation planning is pretty big,” ACOG Executive Director John G. Johnson said. “We need to look at serious choices for central Oklahoma to be able to get around. We’re at capacity.”

 Encompass 2040, the Draft Plan for the Oklahoma City Area Regional Transportation Study area, serves as central Oklahoma’s guide for investing more than $10 billion in its multimodal transportation system between 2010 and 2040.

“We’re getting federal money, so there’s going to be a process to get that money coming to central Oklahoma,” Johnson said. “Most of the projects are 80 percent federal dollars.”

Once the public comment phase is complete, those ideas will be incorporated into the plan. Challenges to public transit include the local culture and convincing lawmakers to subsidize rail.

“You have to get the funds to pay for operation,” Johnson said. “Any public transit is like a highway. It’s not free. There’s no one source that pays for that, and the fare box doesn’t pay for that. It has to be subsidized. Central Oklahoma will have to decide: Do we want to have public transportation?”

For people to ride a commuter train, the system must have enough rail times, be dependable and participating cities must have a robust bus system and/or bike share programs so people can get to work once they arrive at the destination.

People also must be willing to get out of their cars and onto the train, bus or bicycle. Other cities in states with similar cultural attitudes toward driving have changed, Johnson said, but Oklahoma must find that tipping point where people do not want to sit on a highway that has become a parking lot because of heavy traffic.

Asked why the regional transit focus is on commuter rail rather than light right, Johnson said commuter rail is more affordable because it uses railways and rail rights of way that are already in place. In central Oklahoma, a lease agreement would be arranged with BNSF Railroad.

 Council member Stephen Tyler Holman asked if ACOG has compared the cost of highway construction and maintenance with the cost of commuter rail. He said the state subsidizes highways.

Johnson said fuel taxes provide funding for highways, but he agreed the comparison would be interesting. ACOG has not done such a comparison, he said.

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