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While a downtown light rail system is critical to the success of the $297 million MAPS plan, city officials said Tuesday, Oklahoma City taxpayers may not be able to afford it if Rep. Ernest Istook blocks federal funding.
"We would have to come up with a plan outside of MAPS and I don't know yet how we would do that. We can't (afford) the $13 million or $15 million that it's going to take to do it," Mayor Ron Norick said.
City officials may have to consider a capital bond project to pay for the transportation link, he added. His comments came during a break in Tuesday's city council meeting.
Istook, R-Warr Acres, strongly opposes a plan now under consideration by a House-Senate Appropriations conference committee. That proposal could provide up to $13 million this year for the transportation project.
A day earlier, Istook told the chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on transportation that the project is economically unsound.
City Councilman Jack Cornett on Tuesday termed Istook's attitude "totally negative" and urged the Congressman to reconsider his stance and "take a look at the city area he represents."
Istook criticized the MAPS fixed-rail trolley loop saying it would be "high in cost but low in passengers."
He opposes pork projects, he said.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Istook said the city transportation plan "is not a proper use of federal taxpayers money under the guise of mass transit."
At stake is a 2.7 mile track that would be laid on downtown streets as part of the Metropolitan Area Projects plan. The light rail system is expected to cost $16 million. Nine stops would be included in the downtown loop. The city has set aside $3 million in local tax revenue and wants Congress to appropriate the rest.
Mayor Norick said Istook has relied on outdated information.
"He does not have certain revenue streams projected to help cover operating costs. We have (about) 8,000 parking places operated by the city in the downtown area that we need to (use) better. If we can provide a very good circulator system that will allow people to park on special event nights, we are going to increase revenue on those parking garages," Norick said.
An estimated $300,000 operating cost for the rail system would be "substantially reduced by increased revenues from parking garages. We are trying to make the downtown friendlier to tourists and visitors. As we open up our new convention facility, as new hotels open, we (need) to have a way people unfamiliar with our downtown streets ... can get on a system that makes frequent runs," Norick said.
"I don't think it's a pork project," Norick said. "The voters approved it as part of the MAPS referendum that we would fund some part of the transportation link. I think it makes a lot of sense. The citizens are putting in their money. We've got $3 million allocated and I would suspect as time goes on we'll put more in that project to make sure it's done right," the mayor said.
"I'm really working now through Sen. (Don) Nickles office. He is very supportive of this project and is trying to see if we can get it through the conference committee."
The project would improve the viability of MAPS , Norick said.
City planners touted the transportation link to private investors along Interstate 40 and Meridian Avenue as a way for conventioneers to get to downtown sites from hotels and motels near the fairgrounds.
In 1993, voters approved a five-year, 1-cent sales tax to fund nine major sports and entertainment facilities as part of MAPS.
"I think the citizens would like to see it done this way (with federal funding), and I would too. I plan to use it. I think what we would like to do is get this basic (link) in and when we get toward the end (of the project) maybe we can add amenities and expand it if it becomes more popular," Norick said.Archive ID: 660722