OKLAHOMA CITY — The most expensive highway construction project ever undertaken by the state could be delayed if a federal agency denies an application to relocate a railway line that lies directly in the project's path, officials said Wednesday.
The federal Surface Transportation Board is considering a request by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. to relocate about a mile of rail line it owns in Oklahoma City that is in the path of the Interstate 40 Crosstown Expressway relocation project.
Construction of the $500 million, 4.5-mile relocation project has already begun and completion is scheduled for 2012, said Gary Ridley, director of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and Gov. Brad Henry's transportation secretary. But no construction work can begin on that one-mile stretch until the rail line issue is resolved, Ridley said.
"It's in the hands of the STB," Ridley said. He said the agency has been seeking public comments about the plan and that it is not known when it will decide the issue.
"It's been some time," Ridley said.
Although the rail line issue has not yet delayed the project's completion date, the area will become part of the critical path of the Crosstown relocation project this year and a decision must be handed down within the next 30 to 60 days to avoid construction delays, Ridley said.
"It's getting fairly close," the ODOT director said. "We're optimistic that the ruling will come down that will allow this to be done."
But a critic of the Crosstown project said it should have never been launched until the state had control of all of the right of way it needed for the project.
Tom Elmore of the North American Transportation Institute, which promotes transportation issues including rail, also said relocation of the BNSF rail line will disrupt a critical east-west rail path that connects southwest Oklahoma with eastern parts of the state.
"Why would the highway department try to destroy the state's rail center?" Elmore said.