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Oklahoma City Mayor Ron Norick and Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Warr Acres, exchanged barbs Wednesday as the pair feuded - long-distance - over federal funding for the MAPS light rail system.
Norick told The Oklahoman that Istook "blindsided" him after promising not to publicly criticize the mayor's $13 million transportation request.
Istook then retorted that no elected official should try to get a job done by relying on someone else to keep quiet.
At stake is a plan under consideration by a House-Senate appropriations conference committee that could provide up to $13 million in federal funding for a MAPS transportation link.
Local officials have set aside $3 million in Metropolitan Area Projects sales tax revenue for the light rail system that is expected to cost $16 million. Norick said he was aware Istook personally opposed the rail-trolley plan.
However, when a state delegation met in July in Washington, Norick said the congressman privately promised not to thwart the funding effort.
"He took me aside and said he would not oppose the plan or the request for the federal money. I thought he was being unrealistic about the amount of money it would cost (to operate the rail link), and I was pretty blunt. Now I'm not a bit sorry, and I will probably be more blunt if he's not going to keep his word," Norick said.
The 2.7-mile track that would be laid on streets near Bricktown and Interstate 40 would include nine stops on the downtown loop. N one of the area is part of Istook's legislative district, Norick said.
"I don't understand why he's even speaking out against it," Norick said.
Late Wednesday, Istook told The Oklahoman that he does not understand Norick's rationale.
"I don't think any public official should rely on getting a job done by someone else keeping the facts quiet," Istook said.
"Mayor Norick has always known I do not approve of federal money for the rail-trolley project," Istook said.
Istook said he expressed concerns in 1995 about the use of federal money for MAPS.
At that time, Norick "never seemed concerned" about Istook's fears, the congressman said.
Istook agreed that the two spoke privately in Washington.
"I then personally assured (Norick) I wanted to avoid personal attacks or criticisms, but to focus instead on the actual issues. (Norick) asked if that meant I would support the (MAPS transportation) project. I told him no," Istook said.
"I don't know how he can now claim that he was surprised this week. I've stayed focused on the issue, which is whether U.S. taxpayers should finance a very small but very expensive rail trolley in downtown Oklahoma City. I'm still waiting for a good explanation of why American taxpayers should pay for this."
On Sept. 9, Istook told a key House appropriator, Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., that the federal government should not spend money on the MAPS rail system in Oklahoma City.
On Wednesday, Norick wrote Wolf in response to Istook's comments.
In that letter, Norick maintained Istook was basing his assumptions on outdated material.
"This project is the core element of Oklahoma City's $300 million Metropolitan Area Projects," the mayor wrote.
"This major central city renewal ... is being built with local nonfederal funds."
City voters did not propose the rail link as a mass transit project to move commuters to downtown offices, Norick wrote, and statistics used for other mass transit projects should not be used to compare the feasibility of the MAPS link .
Istook said Norick has used "a guessing basis" for costs involved in the "high-cost and low-ridership" transportation link.Archive ID: 660624