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Streetcars in 2017?

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So this is where it gets real. Maybe. As reported today by Bill Crum, the MAPS 3 citizens review board approved a streetcar route to send to the Oklahoma City Council for final consideration and approval. And if it clears the city council, Oklahoma City may finally see a 30-year dream to launch rail-based transit become a reality.

The route itself provides room for compromise yet ahead; it allow for both track couplets along Broadway and Robinson, but also for just a duel track along Broadway. It also allows for a funded second phase to travel along 4th Street through Deep Deuce and to the gateway of the Presbyterian Health Foundation Research Park. That route, marked in blue on the above map, also then allows for a future expansion into the Oklahoma Health Center. Smart move. If the transit system is a success, it is entirely possible that a future date the University of Oklahoma may desire to partner up with the city to pay for that extension. A line into the northeast side may also prove to be a more attractive candidate at a later date for federal funding (depending on political winds ahead).

The map also shows a short phase II segment to be built in front of the Santa Fe Depot, which will become the future transit hub. I’m bewildered as to why this isn’t in the first phase, especially since the street is set to be torn up as part of Project 180.

Yet another phase II extension is suggested further into Core to Shore, where there is no development now. Will there be a need for transit into the area in the future? Maybe. This is an area where future phasing seems like a smart move, and it also allows for a future extension into Capitol Hill.

The map also shows what can occur in the future west of Midtown with a yellow line showing how the line could extend along Classen Drive. Plaza District – that’s your chance to plug in. If you want the rail line to hit NW 16, now is the time to start talking, thinking about possible funding, and working behind the scenes to make it a reality.

All of this, however, assumes that ongoing opposition to the overhead wiring expressed by Larry Nichols doesn’t create an extensive delay or obstacle to the streetcar work starting up. It also assumes that Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid isn’t successful in what is perceived to be an effort to consider whether funding for the streetcar system might be better diverted to the city’s struggling bus system.

If all goes as planned, the $128.8 million project is scheduled to begin operations in 2017. The streetcar will run on tracks that are flush with downtown streets and share the same lanes as other vehicles and cyclists. The city council is set to vote on the route on September 24. That’s a month away, and in politics, it’s a pretty long gap where anything might happen.


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Steve Lackmeyer

Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter, columnist and author who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's... Read more ›