Yukon woman calls for light rail action

By Traci Chapman
Published on August 28, 2008

Charlotte Holder has a dream — to see light rail service across Canadian County. She appeared before County Commissioners Monday as a first step in making that dream a reality.

Yukon resident Holder and her husband, Lee Holder, asked Commissioners to adopt a resolution supporting efforts to develop rail service across the state, as well as save Oklahoma City’s historic Union Station, which is slated for demolition as part of the Interstate 40 crosstown construction. Light rail service isn’t optional, it is necessary, Holder said, to developing “the necessary transportation we need to survive” with gas prices rising.

“We live in Spanish Cove, and it’s getting to the point that people are having a difficult time coming up with gas money to go to doctor’s appointments and other things in the city,” she said. “We cannot afford to isolate ourselves out here, and cars are not really a long-term solution to the problem.”

El Reno City Council passed a resolution supporting light rail Aug. 5; Midwest City’s City Council passed a similar motion Aug. 12 supporting the expansion of passenger rail service from Oklahoma City to Kansas, said Rhonda Atkins, Midwest City clerk. Shawnee City Council will consider a resolution Sept. 2, Shawnee Mayor Chuck Mills said.

In addition to supporting a Kansas-Oklahoma City link, the resolutions call for investigation into the possibility of creating commuter rail service to Bricktown and Will Rogers Airport. The service would extend into Canadian County, as well, Holder said.

“We are the missing link out here,” she said. “The timing is everything for us, and right now is the time to act before it’s too late.”

Saving Union Station is key, Holder said, because of the importance not just of the station itself but also the surrounding tracks. The fight over the fate of Union Station could determine the future of central Oklahoma’s transportation, she said.

Oklahoma City officials, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company have been involved in an ongoing dispute with proponents of the station, including activist Edwin Kessler. Kessler filed a petition with the Surface Transportation Board — the entity responsible for federal regulation of the nation’s railways — attempting to reverse a decision by that board that would have allowed the demolition of the station and dismantling of the tracks leading to it.

In June, the STB partially granted Kessler’s petition, stating that BNSF filed a “false or misleading” statement saying the lines surrounding the station had not been used in the last two years. That matter is still pending, STB media officer Dennis Watson said Monday.

Rep. Wallace Collins, D-Norman, introduced HCR 1032, which would have asked Gov. Brad Henry to declare a moratorium, conduct a comprehensive study of the proposed path of the new crosstown interstate, save Union Station and promote the return of passenger rail service in Oklahoma by investing in a light rail system. Although the measure died in committee, Collins said he would renew his efforts to keep the station from being demolished.

Proponents of the light rail system point to similar projects in Austin, Texas, Salt Lake City, Utah and Tucson, Ariz., that they say have “changed the way people travel” in those areas, Kessler said.

Holder said her next step is to go before Yukon City Council Tuesday, and she said she will keep “prodding” commissioners for a resolution. Calls to commissioners to see whether the matter will appear on a future agenda were not returned as of press time.

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