It’s been a decade, I think, since I first met Tom Elmore. The Interstate 40 relocation project was gaining steam and Elmore was clearly upset that his concerns about the Union Station railyard were not being heard. During the previous few years City Hall and the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber had fought the route proposed by the state that would go through the rail yard. But they were outmatched by then ODOT Secretary Neal McCaleb who argued that his preferred route would be cheaper ($236 million) compared to the estimated $306 million estimated for the route closer to the existing alignment preferred by city officials. From the start Tom Elmore insisted ODOT was not being honest about the estimated cost of their preferred route. The price is now $600 million. Tom Elmore is not typically complimentary toward my work. He has told me that he sees The Oklahoman being a part of a conspiracy involving ODOT and highway construction groups determined to destroy Union Station and eliminate effective rail traffic through downtown. And he saw my questioning of him on www.okctalk.com as part of that conspiracy. Regardless, I want all voices represented on this blog. I started offering Tom the chance to guest blog a few months ago. I am very happy that he has finally agreed to participate in Downtown OKC 2020. As you can imagine, Tom has Union Station on his mind ….
What are we fighting for?
Intelligent reuse of the OKC Union Station passenger rail terminal at 300 SW 7th. The terminal building was purchased by OKC government in 1989 using a $1.2 million Federal Transit Grant. They said they wanted it to be our regional transit center, a purpose it suits perfectly. It’s never been used as anything but office space by OKC Metro Transit’s bureaucrats.
The rendering above shows modern reuse of the existing yard space, and why the entire yard is needed: Two tracks for each application (one eastbound, one westbound): Two tracks for Mail, Express and Baggage handling; Two tracks for local Light Rail Trains; Two tracks for Regional Commuter Trains; Two Tracks for Intercity Passenger Trains; Two tracks for freight trains to bypass the yard; Two tracks for special trains for tourism, private and corporate events and so on. Local streetcars could interface with train and bus traffic here at the central hub simply by coming through the horseshoe in front of the terminal building off of SW 7th.
As you can see — the all the space at Union Station is needed for a modern, multimodal center. The OKC Union Station yard originally accommodated 12 tracks for purposes similar to those stated above. Today, it may well be the last, grand urban rail passenger yard in the West with all its original train-handling space intact — a yard over 200 feet wide and 8 blocks long with its original arterial street underpasses still functioning at S. Robinson and S. Walker Avenues.
…..and our debt-generating “state Department of Transportation” wants to destroy this yard facility to make way for the relocation of a mere four miles of highway — a relocation that might have been put nearly anywhere?
At the audio link below, hear the comments in KGOU interview from a couple of years back of mayors from Denver and Salt Lake City — two urban centers now enjoying the rapid growth of their own rail transit networks:
(For other audio files from KGOU’s extensive documentary reporting on this matter, check www.kgou.org, or go to the lower lefthand side of the North American Transportation Institute website, www.advancedtransport.org, for clickable links.)
Oklahoma City and state leadership — perhaps for only a few more days — have an opportunity to save and reuse our beautiful, functionally elegant and historic Union Station center to create an economic and transportation renaissance. The synergy of putting such a historic asset to a vital modern use is inestimable. The question is — do our leaders have the vision, the drive and the courage to do the right thing?
Check the Bing Maps view at the link below: Click on “Birdseye” and swing the map around so that you’re looking south. This gives an excellent view of the facility that you may scan from side to side to see the underpasses and full yard: Link.
Make no mistake about it — OKC Union Station and its rail lines are the only hope this generation has of seeing a truly useful, truly regional transit system in its lifetime.
Don’t let the highway lobby beat us out of it.
Time after time I hear reports about no retail in Bricktown – that the district only has restaurants and bars. Here’s a video round-up showing my visits to Bricktown shops that are going against the stereotype and waiting to be discovered by those craving retail:
Not represented in the above videos: Firefly Clothing, RedHawks gift shop and the Painted Door Gift Shop.
Look carefully and you can see the refinements and tweaks to the tower and campus design. Thanks to Pete at www.okctalk.com for bringing our attention to these latest renderings posted at Pickard-Chilton’s website.
FYI: City Council tomorrow will be considering amending a $480,000 contract with Hargreaves Associates to allow for construction of a model and designs for Central Park, for which construction funding has not been approved by voters.
“As the 50th largest city in the United States, we are in a competition with other urban communities such as Oklahoma City, Kansas City and Fort Worth, all of whom actively seek to create a social environment that is attractive to a young, progressive demographic,” Mayor Brewer testified before a legislative committee. “We firmly believe that proper regulation, licensing and oversight will ensure a responsible use of this opportunity. Large urban environments such as Wichita require the option of self-regulation to meet the needs and expectations of our population.”