July 12, 2013

Perryman says all aboard for Oklahoma mass transit plan

James Bright, Managing Editor,
The Express-Star

CHICKASHA — A commonality among most metropolitan areas is mass transit. Many major cities have large systems connecting districts in the area, allowing easy access for commuters to travel between their homes, jobs and sources of entertainment. State Representative David Perryman (D-Pocasset) hopes to take this one step further with a statewide high-speed rail line. Perryman has requested an interim study be conducted between now and the next legislative session, which would look at the feasibility of creating such a line connecting Lawton to Oklahoma City, and Oklahoma City to Tulsa.

Perryman likened his proposal to a system currently utilized in Missouri that sends trains upwards of 110 mph between Kansas City and St. Louis, and takes 600 cars a day off of roads in the state.

"When you look at high- speed rails, and you're driving down the interstate and you see train passing you, the driver gets the idea that this is something they could look into for themselves," Perryman said. "This is a viable alternative."

Should the study show the rails as a feasible option, Perryman said the next hurdle would be getting the Oklahoma legislature to allocate funds for the project.

"It's an investment. If you look at it as something that will turn a profit on day one, you'll never get what you want. But if  you look at as something that will improve the quality of life over a few years, it's an obvious plus," said Perryman. "When you consider the potential benefits to our citizens and tourism dollars, as well as the positive environmental impact of removing hundreds, or even thousands of vehicles wear and tear on our roads, it would appear that we would be irresponsible if we did not give this a serious look."

Should the state move forward with such a project, Perryman said it could take as little as three to four years for the first trains to start running between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. He said the state owns the Stillwater rail line, which follows a good portion of Perryman's proposed lines, and would cut down on initial cost.

"It's economical for the state, it's cheap for the passenger and it's environmentally friendly," said Perryman. "We continuously look at things we can't afford at the state level, but the reality is, it's never going to get cheaper than this."

With gas prices once again trending upward, Perryman said the citizens of Oklahoma could see prosperity from the creation of a high-speed rail too, as well as a time savings.

"It allows people to travel for appointment s in large cities at a much cheaper cost than driving," Perryman said. "If someone has an appointment in Oklahoma City, that person could get on the rail and spend the day in the city while still being able to make it back home at night."

Beyond connecting the three largest cities in Oklahoma, Perryman also hopes to work with surrounding states to increase tourism and interstate travel.

"In Missouri, people talk about traveling from Chicago to St. Louis for $36," said Perryman. "It opens up an entirely different type of travel and tourism for us as a state . We could ultimately create a line that takes passengers to Joplin, St. Louis Wichita."

And for smaller county seats, like Chickasha, Perryman said the plan would eventually connect the large rail via small substations or bus systems that could take passengers to the nearest station.

Respondents to a question on The Express-Star's Facebook regarding a high-speed rail line heavily supported Perryman's initiative.

"There is a lot of talk about attracting out of state firms to boost our jobs numbers, this would be a step in the right direction," J.J. Francis wrote. "What major metropolitan area doesn't have access to high speed rail and mass transit? Mass transit in Oklahoma is primarily for those without the means to afford a vehicle and a handful of others, but it isn't for everyone. This project if linked with Kansas City it would pave the way toward making it for everyone and attracting out of firms who can offer competitive jobs."

Jenny Robinson wrote that the current cost of gas alone would be enough for her to look at the rail as an alternative.

"I live in Chickasha and work and go to school in Oklahoma City," she wrote. "The gas and the toll booth are my top priority when I leave my house now. I would like to see this happen in hopes to get to work cheaper. The convenience alone would encourage me to use the rail as frequently as possible!"

Should the study show such a project to be a possible, Perryman said he hopes the mind-set of all Oklahomans will change to one that supports mass transit in the state.

"Oklahoma City is quickly becoming a destination city," he said. "This would bring Texas dollars and dollars from the Northeast into Oklahoma."