The answer to the future of central Oklahoma's mass transit system lies in the past, proponents of an interurban commuter rail line believe.
They point out that the first phase of a modern interurban commuter rail line would become a reality if voters approve a five-year, 1-cent sales tax on Dec. 14 to fund the Metro Area Projects (MAPS) plan.
One of the plan's projects would spend $3 million to help pay for building a passenger rail line between the Interstate 40-Meridian Avenue interchange to downtown Oklahoma City and Bricktown.
The rest of what the project would cost, $12 million, would come through federal grants.
Steve Klika, administrator of the Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking and Authority (COTPA), said a final design study will determine whether the transportation link will be a monorail or a diesel-electric trolley car system.
The final selection will depend upon cost.
If it turns out to be a trolley car system or some variation, then the likely route will enter and leave downtown on a street such as Sheridan or Reno.
Just east of the state fairgrounds, the line would switch over to railroad tracks, leading west to the I-40 and Meridian interchange.
Klika said the system is designed to link motels in the I-40 and Meridian area to the fairgrounds and downtown-Bricktown areas.
Such a system would be the beginning of an eventual commuter railway stretching from Guthrie to Norman and from Shawnee to Yukon, Klika said.
Klika has been working for years on developing a plan that will bring commuter rail service back to Oklahoma City.
Klika said the process began with a decision by Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority in the 1980s to shift central Oklahoma's bus service to regional routes with buses starting and ending in different locations around the metropolitan area.
Before, all buses departed and returned to a central location in downtown Oklahoma City.
The next step, he said, was to secure a central location where interstate bus service could be combined with a local mass transportation system.
That goal was realized recently when the transportation authority's board of directors voted to approve an agreement between Greyhound Bus Lines and the authority for the bus company to operate its terminal at the Union Train Station, SW 7 and Hudson.
But the interstate bus service won't be linked with a commuter service until an expanded commuter rail line is in place.
The concept of the resulting link - COTPA buses, to commuter rail to interstate bus service - is called an "intermodal transportation hub" by governmental officials.
Klika said intermodal hubs are a goal of the Federal Transportation Administration, the agency that hands out federal dollars for transportation projects.
Persistent pressure from appointed and elected officials can convince the federal government to proceed with the plan, Klika said.
After all, federal officials have already provided COTPA with the funds for the Union Station's purchase, something Klika calls a major piece of the plan.
Oklahoma also has been a major "donor state" to the federal funds that supply grants for these programs, he said.
"We pay for the use of these funds through a penny-and-a-half sales tax on gasoline," Klika said. "Oklahoma annually pays in an about $38 million for these projects, but we only get about $1 million back each year.
"So, we have been kind of short-ended on getting these funds back into this state. " Klika said a good way to convince federal authorities that a commuter rail line is wanted would be to approve the Meridian-downtown-Bricktown rail project on the MAPS sales tax election Dec. 14. BIOG: NAME:Archive ID: 557944