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SlyDi's recent diary about the national impact of the Midwest floods, has moved me to post a diary that I've been meaning to write for a number of days. SlyDi points out, among other things, that over the decades our nation has slowly destroyed what was once the greatest rail system in the world. And we're now paying the price for it.  The Midwest floods only highlight this self-inflicted crisis that will become more and more apparent...especially as gas prices continue to soar.

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) and the trucking interests that it largely represents have been busily trying to write another sad chapter in this saga for the last several years.  ODOT has been working to build a huge, new highway through Oklahoma City. This ten-lane monstrosity is conveniently routed in such a way as to require the destruction of the old Union Station railyard, which might otherwise serve as a hub for rail transportation locally and throughout the state.

But now, thanks to the efforts of a group of citizen activists, the destruction has been put on hold.      

In 1989, the City of Oklahoma City purchased Union Station for $1.8 billion.  Most of that money, $1.2 billion, was federal funds, specifically earmarked for turning the facility into a mass transit hub. The station stands at the center of a network of nearly 900 miles of rail lines throughout the state.  Oklahoma City sits smack dab in the middle of the Sooner State. Here's a map of the rail system in the OKC area:

But the city never got around to building the rail system for which it was fronted over a billion dollars of our tax money.

Not surprisingly given the centrality of the oil business for our state's prosperity, Oklahoma political elites are solidly in the back pocket of the producers and users of fossil fuels. When it comes to transportation, roads and trucking are good; rail is bad.

Although polls suggest that the public wants Oklahoma City to develop light rail, the city and the state have been working overtime to make that more difficult by plotting the destruction of Union Station and its associated rail lines.  

They've been opposed by a group of citizen-activists, led by, among others, Tom Elmore, who heads an organization called the North American Transportion Institute (the website contains lots of additional info about the Oklahoma City fight) and Dr. Edwin Kessler, who is simply one of the most extraordinary people I know.  

Now retired, Dr. Kessler is a meteorologist who used to direct the National Severe Storms Lab in Norman.  A longtime board member of Common Cause Oklahoma, Dr. Kessler is a tireless fighter for our state and our environment, and against the corruption that still dominates Oklahoma politics.

One of the many threads of corruption that led from the plan to destroy the Union Station rail lines involved a January 2007 finding by the Federal Surface Transportation Board that rail lines owned by BNSF had been abandoned and unused for two years.  This finding was critical because in order to expedite the destruction of the rail lines, the owners had to prove that they were unused. In theory, our federal policy is designed to prevent the destruction of useful infracture.

But in fact the lines were not unused. Dr. Kessler assembled evidence showing that the BNSF and Stillwater Central Railways had been using the lines during the period in which they had claimed the lines were unused.

On June 5 of this year, the STB reopened the case and found that the applicants for expedited destruction had provided false and misleading information. Under federal regulations, this automatically leads to a rejection of the application.

The war has not been won. But we've won an important battle. Expedited destruction of the rail lines is now out of the question. Having failed to prove abandonment, BNSF has a much steeper hill to climb. They must show that the integrity of the Union Station lines are unnecessary to transportation in the state of Oklahoma.

Meanwhile, with gas prices soaring, the idea of a modern, light rail system becomes more and more appealing to Oklahomans.

There's good reason to think that this reprieve in the planned destruction of our state's main rail hub will become permanent.

And it wouldn't have happened were it not for a handful of citizen activists willing to stand up to the powers-that-be and demand that our city, state, and federal governments operate for the people, and not for the special interests.

Originally posted to GreenSooner on Mon Jun 16, 2008 at 04:17 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (32+ / 0-)

    For unsung local heroes and a more sustainable transportation system!

    This nicely summarizes what's wrong with American political life today. (Source)

    by GreenSooner on Mon Jun 16, 2008 at 04:18:49 AM PDT

    •  As a Cyclone, never thought that I would cheer so (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Lujane, shortgirl

      hard for a Sooner. Go Green.

      "...fighting the wildfires of my life with squirt guns."

      by deMemedeMedia on Mon Jun 16, 2008 at 04:31:08 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Sigh sometime I think about moving back to OK (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      GreenSooner, Lujane, shortgirl

      but I don't really know what good it would do.  I've always thought about going into politics there, but at the end of the day I am not sure that Oklahomans are ready to take responsibility for the mess in the state.

      Yes the oil market bottomed out, yes cotton and much agriculture is unprofitable, yes the south eastern part of the state has no real industry.  However, after living in small towns and big cities all over the state, at the end of the day, it is the permissive culture of corruption that has kept Oklahoma back.  

      It goes hand in hand w/religion.  That's something I never understood.    I never got the hypocrisy between deeply religious people who basically did shady (business) things.  Like our former governor Keating.

      It is the "ain't nothing going to change" attitude that I think leads so many people to leave the states.  Also it is pretty easy for a politician to hide secrets there.

      Oklahoma is not Ok, and I don't know what to do about it.

      The definition of insanity is voting the same way and expecting a different result. I'm talking to you FL,OH, KY, WV!

      by Shhs on Mon Jun 16, 2008 at 06:07:08 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  As a fellow Oklahoman I thank you for hitting the (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        nail on the head. Religion is the problem in Oklahoma.  You were right in saying that Oklahomans are a deeply religious people.  The many small churches serve as social centers as well as relious centers.  That is where you go to visit your friends, make new friends, be a part of something.  Most of these people are good people.  The little churches help their neighbor out when they are in trouble, provide support to many in the community when they are hurting.  The trouble is that most of the churches are affiliated with the SBC, and the SBC is the problem.  Ever since the conservatives captured the SBC it has been a pawn of the Republican Party.  It is planning a massive voter registration drive on behalf of the Republicans again this year. It certainly played a big part in electing Bush both terms.  I have tried through the blogs to point out to progressive Democrats the danger posed by the SBC.  I only wish I were more eloquent, and able to get my point across better. 

    •  Thanks (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      GreenSooner, Powered Grace, shortgirl

      for sharing this info with Daily Kos. We have a unique opportunity right now to change things for the better in OK.

      For Oklahomans who are interested in working on mass transit issues in OK, particularly light rail, there is a listserv where we are talking about it. Contact me if interested (see profile page for address).

      Okie? Join Sooner Kos. | Why Obama? Because we've never had a president whose name started with O.

      by gypsy on Mon Jun 16, 2008 at 06:10:31 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  That's great news! (4+ / 0-)

    Hope you get that light rail system ASAP.

    Our economy is a house of cards. Don't breathe.

    by Youffraita on Mon Jun 16, 2008 at 04:25:09 AM PDT

  •  Robber Republicans I would wager (0+ / 0-)

    Crats aren't the klepto I would bet
    maybe Kleptocans?

  •  We have a long history in this country (8+ / 0-)

    of shuffling resources and assets back and forth between the public sector and the private sector with the constant goal being to let the public share the cost and the privates reap the wealth. When this pattern is followed long enough, you end up with a few rich people and a large population which barely has enough.

    When John McCain says he doesn't want to redistribute the wealth, that's what we need to keep in mind.  He doesn't want to undo what Republicans have wrought.

    The reality is that the majority of Americans have modest expectations and don't really care how rich some people get.  But, people who are addicted to getting rich are, like those addicted to other stuff, never satisfied.  That's why there has to be an intervention.

    It's not logical or rational; it's a matter of necessity.  Besides, it's really not good for people to be encouraged to stick their fingers in the public till every time one of their projects goes bad.  Being bailed out removes the incentive to do things right.

    Which is an argument that conservatives should be able to understand, especially if it's explained in these simple terms.

    How do you tell a predator from a protector? The predator will eat you sooner rather than later.

    by hannah on Mon Jun 16, 2008 at 04:32:57 AM PDT

  •  This is great info (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    GreenSooner, RJDixon74135, shortgirl

    for us Okies.  I didn't know this was going on.   Light rail would work well between cities.  Imagine, if I wanted to go to OKC from Tulsa, instead of driving, I could just get on a train!  Or to Lawton, Bartlesville, Ponca City, Woodward, etc.  Unfortunately, since the oil companies have such a grip on the State, I'd be surprised to see this in my life time.  Anyway, thanks for the heads up.

    Always ask yourself: WWDD

    by karesse on Mon Jun 16, 2008 at 04:38:33 AM PDT

    •  If you want to help... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ...write Gov. Henry on this issue.

      It's high time that Democratic electoral officials in the state stopped sitting on their haunches and got on the right side of this one.

      Incidentally, the secretary of the state Demoratic Party, Walter Jenny, Jr., wrote an excellent op-ed about this in the Edmund Sun last Friday.

      This nicely summarizes what's wrong with American political life today. (Source)

      by GreenSooner on Mon Jun 16, 2008 at 04:59:27 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I love light rail (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Thanks to progressives being in control of Salt Lake City we have a real nice light rail system which has been integrated with the bus routes. You can get anywhere you need to go in the Salt Lake City area by mass transit. They are now in the process of connecting the rail lines to surrounding towns. As an added bonus one of the perks of working for the University of Utah is a free yearly bus/rail pass. I am one of the very few people not directly affected by rising gas prices.

    When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.

    by rmonroe on Mon Jun 16, 2008 at 05:10:30 AM PDT

    •  Ernest Istook helped make that possible! (0+ / 0-)

      Istook, a former far-right GOP Congressperson from OKC and a Mormon, has been a total opponent of light-rail in his own state, but was happy to shovel federal dollars to SLC for light rail there.  It is a terrific system, but it's in part the result of typical GOP situational ethics.

      This nicely summarizes what's wrong with American political life today. (Source)

      by GreenSooner on Mon Jun 16, 2008 at 06:33:08 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Actually Istook fought this the hardest (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Kiamichi, shortgirl

    OKC had a plan for light rail from the airport to
    bricktown.  The city had won a federal grant and
    Istook killed it.

    He almost lost his election that year.

    George Bush is Living proof of the axiom "Never send a boy to do a man's job" E -2.25 S -4.10

    by nathguy on Mon Jun 16, 2008 at 05:15:56 AM PDT

  •  Absolutely (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    GreenSooner, shortgirl

    shocked that the STB was honest here. My experience is that they will make up crap to suit the White House Energy Task Force.

  •  I'd like to see a Tulsa-OKC commuter train (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RJDixon74135, shortgirl

    I'd also like a bus that runs on Sunday in Tulsa. There are a lot of mass transit improvements I'd like to see in Oklahoma, but I just don't see them happening very quickly or that they'll be practical when they do get built. I hope I'm wrong.

    One final note. I hope the high fuel prices helps to kill the Supercorridor along with high prices and shortages of the vast amounts of concrete and steel it's going to need.

    "Never have so few taken so much from so many for so long."

    by londubh on Mon Jun 16, 2008 at 06:07:37 AM PDT

  •  Additionally, a 10 lane highway (0+ / 0-)

    will take a quarter mile swath of land wherever it goes.  In times past, certainly in Central Ohio where I live, a wide freeway takes blocks and blocks of urban housing with the potential to dislocate thousands of people, and in the course of a several hundred mile highway, destroy hundreds of farms, contribute to both rural and urban flooding due to immediate runoff of rainwater, and cut off neighborhoods or farmers from a part of their land with few roads to provide access to the other side.

    I am sure some people in Oklahoma are looking at these effects, but the impact of such a highway will certainly be statewide, and this should be communicated in mass media.  Not enough people read blogs or activist websites to move an entrenched and powerful political machine.

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