Texas and Oklahoma officials have launched a joint study to look at bringing passenger rail up the I-35 corridor from south Texas to Oklahoma City, with further extension of the Heartland Flyer line possible through Wichita.
The study’s initial goal, Texas Department of Transportation officials said, is improving mobility for residents in a state rapidly outgrowing its road system with more than a thousand residents moving in daily. TDOT is holding public meetings and is accepting public comment on its website www.txdot.gov/inside-txdot/projects/studies/statewide/texas-oklahoma-rail.html.
“We have drivers spending so many hours a week sitting in traffic on our major roadways,” said Veronica Beyer, a TDOT spokeswoman. “That’s time that should be spent with their families. So with our public meetings, we’re gaining information from our citizens on how to get them out of this congestion.”
The study will look at a variety of passenger rail options along the corridor and will conclude with an environmental impact study in the area, according to the TDOT website. It targets service in the two states and options for extension of the line north to Kansas City that could include Wichita.
In addition, the study will look at three sections of the two-state corridor: Oklahoma City to Dallas/Fort Worth, DFW to San Antonio and San Antonio to the Corpus Christi area.
“What this says is that Texas is once again not sitting idle and is taking a leadership role in expanding passenger rail,” said Wichita Vice Mayor Pete Meitzner, who is leading the city’s efforts.
Lindsay Douglas, chief of governmental affairs for KDOT, said the Texas-Oklahoma study brings the need for a passenger rail partnership between Kansas and Oklahoma into more focus, as the Sooner State considers a more northern route or a possible northeast route into Tulsa that would bypass Kansas and Wichita.
In February, members of a private Tulsa group told The Eagle they believe private passenger rail is a better fit for the Oklahoma City-to-Tulsa line and a perfect complement for the northern Heartland Flyer into Wichita.
“What’s important about that study is to see where Oklahoma will end up as far as continuing north into Kansas,” Douglas said. “One of the things we have to get accomplished before we expand the Heartland is getting a partnership with Oklahoma, so as they continue to have discussions about passenger rail, we have to continue to be engaged.”
Meitzner said the city’s support was bolstered by the recently released Community Investments Plan, which showed that 74 percent of survey respondents support the establishment of passenger train service between Wichita and regional cities.
“Maybe a little surprisingly,” Meitzner said of the survey results. “It falls in line with the meetings I’ve had with some of our business community, who support this because it’s another way to connect us with our neighbors, transportation-wise, along the I-35 corridor.”
The TDOT website is open to comments from all interested parties, so Meitzner is urging Wichita supporters to weigh in. The deadline for submitting comments is April 26.
“It is a chance, up until the deadline, for us to let our neighbors to the south know of our interest,” he said.
Meanwhile, city and KDOT officials continue to monitor federal funding opportunities for similar studies and for the project at large.