Federal matching funds may help bring Amtrak to Tulsa
BY BRIAN BARBER World Staff Writer
Thursday, January 18, 2007
5/18/08 at 12:34 AM
Federal legislation that would provide $1.4 billion in matching funds for states to expand and improve the Amtrak system could help bring rail service to Tulsa, local and state officials said Wednesday.
"Everyone I talk to, both citizens and elected officials, seems to share the same opinion," said Councilor Rick Westcott, who has spearheaded an effort to extend the Heartland Flyer line from Oklahoma City to Tulsa.
"All of them want to bring Amtrak to Tulsa, but when confronted with the cost, they have reservations," Westcott said, noting that it would take about $130 million to upgrade the rails between the cities for passenger service.
"The big issue will be getting funding from the state Legislature. Any federal match we can get would certainly help."
The proposed funding is part of a six-year, $19.2 billion package called the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2007, which was introduced Tuesday in the U.S. Senate.
A similar measure was approved by the Senate in 2005 but was never acted upon by the House, largely because of opposition from the White House.
Westcott said he will encourage members of Oklahoma's congressional delegation to support the funding package.
The state's two U.S. senators, Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn, voted for the Amtrak funding as part of a larger bill in 2005.
U.S. Rep. John Sullivan said he will work with the city and state to fight for Oklahoma's transportation needs in the House.
"It is important that we ensure that Oklahomans get back what they pay into our nation's transportation systems," he said.
Oklahoma Department of Transportation Rail Programs Division Manager Joe Kyle said state officials previously have looked into getting federal assistance to extend the Heartland Flyer.
"This may be an opportunity to be successful with that," he said.
ODOT and the Indian Nations Council of Governments already have agreed to help pay for a feasibility study.
But the state Legislature might have to chip in some funding as well, Kyle said, adding that he doesn't yet know how much the study will cost.
"It's something we intend to pursue," he said. "This congressional legislation might give it some momentum."
Unless federal matching funds could be secured, the state would be faced with covering the full cost of the Heartland Flyer's extension and operations.
The line, which was established in 1999, already receives $3.9 million annually in state funding for its daily route between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth.
Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari, who is based in Chicago, said helping states that are investing in the rail service is the right thing to do.
"Right now, states have a federal partner in aviation, in highways and in waterways, but not for rail," he said.
"This legislation would provide that partnership for the states and help grow and strengthen the Amtrak network."
Brian Barber 581-8322