Oklahoma City could be poised to catch innovation's leading edge with its downtown streetcar.
The city council is expected to vote next month to approve a streetcar route, as work shifts from planning to design and, starting in 2015, digging up streets and laying tracks.
Streetcars should be traversing the 4.6-mile loop linking MidTown to Bricktown in 2017.
By then, advancements could enable the 66-foot coaches to cover significant portions of the route without needing overhead wires to supply power.
Lee Nichols, a senior planner with Jacobs, the city's lead streetcar consultant, said Thursday that “hybrid” streetcars, with sections off wires, are being developed in Seattle and Dallas.
There's a growing desire to be off-wire, reducing the clutter in busy urban settings, and advances in battery and other technologies increasingly make that possible, Nichols said.
Oklahoma City's streetcar already will require an off-wire solution for crossing under BNSF railroad tracks between downtown and Bricktown.
Even in areas where service begins with overhead wires, it could be possible to take some down as technology improves, Nichols said.
The chairman of the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority said Thursday that building a cutting-edge streetcar system would enhance the city's image.
“An immense amount of effort has gone into beautifying downtown Oklahoma City – and it's working,” said Larry Nichols, executive chairman of Devon Energy.
“You see the evidence everywhere you look,” he said. “That's why I am against a streetcar system that has unattractive overhead wires that will detract from the beauty of our city.
“We should push ourselves to study all other options, including new technologies,” Nichols said.
The $94.4 million streetcar project advanced to the City Council for consideration of the route Thursday when the MAPS 3 Citizens Advisory Board approved it on a voice vote.
Plans call for the city council to review the route Sept. 24.