Oklahoma City, OK — Streetcar Project Moves Forward
In early February, the Modern Transit Project group (firstname.lastname@example.org) sent an email update on plans for the MAPS3 streetcar project. The relevant text follows:
The Streetcar Project is Going to Happen
After a fairly lengthy selection process, the City Council approved engaging Jacobs Engineering as the lead consultants for the Maps 3 Transit/Modern Streetcar Program. Jacobs partnered with URS Corporation and Shiels, Obletz & Johnson, bringing an almost unparalleled wealth of actual experience in planning, designing, building and managing North American modern streetcar systems. City Staff and the Subcommittee recommended the "best of the best" for the citizens of Oklahoma City who want to see their MAPS 3 tax dollars hard at work creating an outstanding starter streetcar system for the community at large.
With experts hired and starting work, 2013 will be consumed with critical tasks such as determining the type of streetcar, verifying the proposed locally preferred route, evaluating stop designs for Oklahoma's unique weather, and gathering further public input and review. Procurement of actual materials, track and switches should be started by the end of 2013. Streetcar vehicle procurement will begin in 2014.
Actual operation of the system is scheduled to begin in 2017.
To get to that point, it is important to have your participation in the process. Attendance at upcoming public meetings being planned by the MAPS 3 Project Office for the first half of 2013 is critical.
Santa Fe Station Intermodal Hub
In 2012, one key action by the City Council, following recommendation by the Subcommittee and MAPS 3 Board, was directing City Staff to move forward with reacquiring the Santa Fe Station in Bricktown for the new Intermodal Hub facility. The beautiful art deco train station was selected as the site in the Intermodal Hub Master Plan. The Santa Fe site was identified as the best location for a mixed-use transit facility compared to 9 other locations.
The Santa Fe Station site in Bricktown is often confused with the Union Station facility located at the southern end of the planned MAPS 3 Park. The rail yard there was removed during the construction of the new I-40, thus eliminating Union Station from consideration as a potential Intermodal hub location.
Some proponents of the Union Station location have derided the Santa Fe Station location due to its smaller physical size. However, the Intermodal Hub Study thoroughly examined the capacity argument and determined that Santa Fe Station can be expanded to meet potential demand 65 years into the future. The station's direct proximity to the downtown core and Bricktown also ensures easy streetcar and pedestrian connectivity within the densest area of downtown.
The Santa Fe Station directly interfaces with the north/south elevated tracks in downtown OKC, enabling easy future potential connectivity between Edmond, Moore and Norman without requiring the back-up maneuvers at Union Station that would have been required to service this key north/south connection.
Also, the Santa Fe Station site enables future direct connectivity to Del City, Midwest City, Tinker Air Force Base, Yukon and Will Rogers World Airport.
The project was commended by the Sierra Club as one of the nation's 25 best planned transportation projects in 2012.
Provisions within the Santa Fe Station Master Plan also enable the future moves of the city's METRO TRANSIT bus transfer center, Edmond City-Link and Greyhound bus service. This provides a future central direct connection for bus passengers with the MAPS 3 streetcar and anticipated regional rail lines.
Meaningful integration with Project 180 debated
For those of you who have traversed downtown in the past two years, an extreme undertaking involving massive construction is underway: Project 180. Through a tax financing mechanism enabled by the construction of the new fifty-story Devon World Headquarters skyscraper, nearly every street in the downtown area will ultimately be completely renovated to enable two-way auto traffic flow, additional parking spaces, bike lanes, and pedestrian friendly connectivity. The project literally involves excavating sidewalks and streets property line to property line.
Enter the MAPS 3 streetcar. The streetcar project will involve significant utility relocation and sidewalk modification to accommodate rails, stops, and other streetcar equipment. Unfortunately, the first phases of Project 180 were unable to integrate with the streetcar schedule and most key north/south streets have been completed. Subsequent installation of streetcar equipment along these streets may require significant reconstruction.
However, there are benefits from the initial phases of Project 180. Through the complete removal of streets and replacement of many utility lines, a comprehensive mapping of all utilities is available to City Staff and engineers. Having that data will save millions in MAPS 3 Streetcar monies and reduce time spent trying to identify utility locations.
But controversy has arisen about the upcoming remaining Project 180 phases and the streetcar. Will the schedules accommodate one another? That is the question.
Currently the project schedules do not match at all, leaving little ability to directly integrate streetcar equipment while streets are being excavated and rebuilt. Utilities may need to be moved a second time, potentially involving significant cost to utility companies and the MAPS 3 streetcar budget.
The Modern Transit Project strongly advocates that the two project schedules be aligned to minimize the cost to utility companies and to mitigate disruption to downtown businesses, workers, residents and visitors. Avoiding an unnecessary second construction period will ultimately maximize the effect of the MAPS 3 Streetcar/Transit tax dollar.
It has been suggested to City Staff that Jacobs Engineering could potentially be issued a work order to provide initial drawings for the area in front of Santa Fe Station. Having these initial streetcar system drawings and transit design guidance would enable Tetra Tech engineers, who are designing the P180 streetscape in front of the Santa Fe Station, to supply a design that provides complete integration between the two projects.
New OKC Boulevard now has time for direct transit integration
The new OKC Boulevard is proposed as a replacement for the former I-40 known as "the Crosstown." The thoroughfare has been described as "OKC's Grand Entrance" into downtown, making it potentially the most significant street linked to the relocated highway.
In the spring of 2012, Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) officials presented their initial proposed roadway design to the MAPS 3 Transit Subcommittee for informational purposes. The Subcommittee questioned the plans and whether ODOT had incorporated the Santa Fe Station Master Plan into their roadway design. ODOT officials indicated that they had not and were unaware of the study.
Questions also arose as to whether the MAPS 3 streetcar could be directly incorporated into the OKC Boulevard construction program. The Subcommittee expressed the need to ensure integration where possible, and for the Intermodal Hub Plan to directly inform key Boulevard design attributes.
As 2012 continued on, significant citizen advocacy indicated desire for a thorough public process in the boulevard design. As ODOT and the City developed a public process, ODOT officials have acknowledged that the original December 2012 time frame for design may be expanded as far out as 2015.
With the public review and design period extended, MTP has issued a formal written request to ODOT via the FHWA that past transit studies, plans, and upcoming MAPS 3 Transit projects be directly and fully incorporated into the Boulevard design process.
Other Cities with Modern Streetcar Systems under construction
The MAPS 3 Streetcar System is now slated to be the 11th operational streetcar system in the USA, based on projected completions of projects in other cities. Currently Portland, Seattle and Tacoma are the only three operating modern streetcar systems. Seattle is undergoing further expansion with an additional line under construction.
Atlanta, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Dallas, Salt Lake City, Tucson and Washington, D.C. are all currently in construction and most projects have contracted with streetcar vehicle suppliers.
MTP Advisory Board Members have visited Portland, Seattle, and Tacoma to view their operational systems. Members have met with Mayor Mark Malory of Cincinnati and former Mayors Bob Walkup of Tucson and Sam Adams of Portland. During visits to other streetcar cities, Board Members met with a myriad of transit officials to learn about their planning and construction processes. Members have also visited and met with officials of tram systems in Canada, Germany, Holland, Ireland and the United Kingdom.
Comprehensive Bus System Study Underway
METRO TRANSIT recently awarded a contract to transportation consultants Nelson Nygaard to conduct a comprehensive bus system analysis. The study will look at consolidating the service area, adding Sunday service, extending service hours, moving to a network that utilizes the city's street grid and how the bus service and the modern the streetcar can complement each other.
Councilman Shadid plans event, desires further input from citizens on transit
With transit as its focus, Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid is planning one of his signature Town Hall forums in late February or early March 2013. This follows similar Town Hall forums sponsored by the Councilman which have focused on issues such as sprawl, community health, and the new OKC Boulevard design. The event is co-sponsored by the OK Alliance for Public Transportation.
Expect discussions about broad transit issues in Oklahoma City and the region. One of the slated guest speakers is internationally renowned public transit planning consultant Jarrett Walker.
Also attending will be planning representatives of the consulting firm Nelson Nygaard. Participants will have the opportunity to engage the consultants directly and share their feedback regarding the OKC transit system.
Guest Speaker Walker is noted for his critiques of the financial investments made in rail systems (including streetcars) detracting from rubber-tire bus systems. MTP firmly believes that no operational funding should be diverted to the streetcar from our city's poorly-funded bus service. Although MAPS funding can only be used for capital projects, MTP members have been strongly advocating for ways to mitigate the streetcar's operating costs, including combining parking with the streetcar maintenance facility.
ACOG initiates Commuter Corridor Study
The Association of Central Oklahoma Governments has initiated the next phase of Regional Transit Dialogue. Representatives from nearly every major central Oklahoma regional city comprise a steering committee to explore developing a regional commuter transit system and expanded transit access
URS Corporation has been engaged to provide a professional study and assessment of how to connect Norman, Moore, Edmond, Del City, Midwest City and Tinker Air Force base to the planned Santa Fe Station Intermodal Hub.
Fixed Guideway Study
The MAPS 3 Modern Streetcar and related transit initiatives began as a solution to downtown connectivity proposed as part of the 2005 Fixed Guideway Study. The study advocated installation of a modern streetcar as a downtown circulator connecting the various downtown districts, hotels, employment centers and entertainment venues to a centrally located hub to be served by commuter rail and express bus service.
From 2005 until 2009, no substantive funding was available to pursue plans.
MAPS 3 and Intermodal Hub Study Approval
The Modern Transit Project was initially founded as a PAC to first advocate for the inclusion of substantive rail initiatives in the Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS) 3 public ballot initiative and then for the successful public vote.
OnTrac (Oklahomans for New Transportation Alternatives Coalition) worked with MTP to successfully advocate for funding an Intermodal Hub Study. Administered by ACOG, the study was funded through a partnership with ODOT and area cities. The study identified the Santa Fe Station as the optimal location for an Intermodal Hub Facility.
On December 8, 2009, a majority of Oklahoma City voters passed the MAPS 3 10-year construction program. The seven-year and nine month one-cent sales tax initiative began on April 1, 2010 and funds eight projects. MAPS 3 is expected to raise $777 million and collections are currently ahead of estimates.
Within that programming, the modern rail-based streetcar and transit project has been budgeted $130 million of the overall $777 million program. Approximately $120 million is budgeted for the new rail-based modern streetcar and $10 million is budgeted for the reacquisition of the Santa Fe Station to serve as an Intermodal Hub and for other rail transit connectivity infrastructure to the facility.
Let's Talk Transit
With the successful approval of MAPS, Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority initiated the Let's Talk Transit public outreach process during Spring 2010. It was intended to educate and facilitate public input while also accelerating the dialog on where the MAPS 3 Streetcar could travel. As well as public outreach through a web site, mailers and online surveys, seven public meetings were held. The Community Discussion Summary of this process is available at the lets talk transit website.
The COTPA Downtown Transit Alternatives Analysis (AA) was a yearlong public process designed to determine the most cost-efficient transit mode and alignments for a downtown transit circulator. The AA was initiated in May 2010 to help solidify an official Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) and to enable MAPS 3 funding to be leveraged for any potential federal funding opportunities. The AA was led by a steering committee of 24 downtown stakeholders chaired by Mayor Cornett and which met six times in 2010 and 2011. In addition, three community meetings were held to communicate the process and solicit input and feedback from the public.
The Alternatives Analysis LPA, which recommended a modern streetcar and route alignment, was approved by the COTPA Board on July 1, 2011 and received concurrence from the City Council on July 19, 2011.
The AA Report, plus meeting presentations, handouts and other resources, can be found at www.letstalktransit.com. You can also contact Larry Hopper, COTPA AA Project Manager, at email@example.com for further information and documentation.
MAPS 3 Transit/Modern Streetcar Subcommittee
The Transit/Modern Streetcar Subcommittee of the MAPS 3 Citizens Advisory Board has ten members who were appointed by the Mayor and City Council. It has met 23 times since November 2010. The subcommittee makes recommendations to the MAPS 3 Citizens Advisory Board who in turn make recommendations to the City Council who make all decisions with respect to MAPS 3.
Upcoming Streetcar Public Outreach
The MAPS Project Office and Jacobs Engineering are planning a number of presentations to community organizations, meetings with stakeholders, workshops and public meetings as part of the streetcar Investigation and Standards phase. These are expected to take place in the first half of 2013 before the final route alignment is confirmed and procurement begins. MTP strongly encourages your involvement in this important process.
The Currently Proposed Streetcar Route
Above is the currently proposed preferred route by the MAPS 3 Transit Subcommittee, which is currently undergoing review. The preferred route is a slightly revised version of the Locally Preferred Alternative derived through the Alternatives Analysis process. The route has been revised to accommodate requests from the City Council and the MAPS 3 Parks Subcommittee, provisions for the new MAPS 3 Convention Center location, and direct connectivity in both directions in front of the planned Santa Fe Intermodal Hub.
Ongoing further analysis involves evaluating economic development potential, system operational feasibility, fatal flaw analysis, and further public input.
Stop locations have not yet been identified, although they are proposed to be at distances of two to three blocks apart. Streetcar vehicles are proposed to have a service frequency of approximately ten minutes with operational hours that extend late into the evening.
About the Modern Transit Project
The Modern Transit Project began as a campaign to advocate for the inclusion of rail and intermodal hub initiatives into the proposed MAPS 3 program. With the successful inclusion of the streetcar and intermodal hub $130 million budget, MTP organized formally as a political committee to assist with efforts to pass the initiative via the December 9, 2009 public vote. Records of campaign expenditures associated with this effort are available through the City Clerk's office.
The Modern Transit Project now exists as a volunteer organization with minimal direct contributions made by individual members and the Board of Advisers for individual educational outreach about MAPS 3 and complimentary transit initiatives.
The volunteers meet twice monthly. Guests are always welcome. Contact the volunteers at firstname.lastname@example.org
Modern Transit Project
1015 N. Broadway, Suite 120
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73102