Long-Term Planning Should Temper Transportation Hub Efforts / Meeting to Address Avoiding Congestion Beyong Usefulness

Article excerpt

Transportation hubs are dynamic centers of commerce, but Neal McCaleb, Oklahoma's secretary of transportation, cautions that efforts to develop hubs should be tempered with careful long-term planning to avoid congestion beyond usefulness.

"Hubs that experience congestion problems are those that experience more commerce," McCaleb said. "The big question is:

"How do we handle that kind of volume and still make it functional?"

That issue will be addressed Nov. 17 in "Transportation 2020," a meeting to be co-hosted in Oklahoma City by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, which McCaleb heads, and two other groups: the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the Highway Users Federation.

The public forum will take testimony from system users - particularly highway users - on their proposals for transportation strategies into the year 2020.

Such events are being staged all over the country, he said, as an effort to anticipate tranportation needs for the coming three decades - before they become impossible to deal with.

He pointed out that tributaries in the nation already are showing signs of problems:

- Tragedies have occured on the Los Angeles expressway system during rush hour, as enraged motorists have opened fire on other commuters.

- Airports function in shoulder-to-shoulder conditions as traffic converges on commercial centers. At the least, the congestion results in increasing numbers of delays. At worst, it presents serious safety hazards as near-miss collision reports climb.

"Oklahoma City has not earned that nefarious notariety," McCaleb said. "I hope we never do. That is the reason we are spending the money planning the expansion we are - which will include toll roads, as well as rail base transit - to avoid slamming into that kind of a brick wall 20 years from now."

McCaleb expects considerable comment on two basic areas in the state-wide forum in November: methods of financing and transportation alternatives.

Financing - Toll roads will probably become more popular now that the national transportation system is functioning in the "after the interstate" era, McCaleb said.

"The advantage is that we can sell bonds - borrow the money, if you will, to build the road at once - and have the highway operational in four years. It is then paid for exclusively by the people who use it. If it is not convenient to you, you won't use it, and therefore you don't have to foot the bill for it."

Another funding idea which will probably be discussed is a proposal to return a greater portion of the federal gas taxes collected locally to the state.

Right now, he said, a 25-cent tax, which goes for highway use, is levied on gas in this state. Eight cents of that tax goes to the federal highway trust fund for maintenance and reconstruction of the interstate highway system, and one cent goes to the urban mass transit system. The remainder - 16 cents - funds state highway needs.

But of the federal funds, only about 85 percent of the money returns to the state in the form of maintenance and reconstruction of the interstate highways within Oklahoma's borders. …