Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Rail Ties: Okla. Endorses Kansas Bid for $3M Transportation Grant

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Rail Ties: Okla. Endorses Kansas Bid for $3M Transportation Grant

Article excerpt

The Oklahoma and Kansas departments of transportation have jointly endorsed an application for a $3 million federal grant to develop a plan to extend the Heartland Flyer railroad route to Wichita, Kan.

Passenger rail service is currently unavailable in the 185 miles between the Oklahoma City and Wichita metro areas. Wichita City Council member Pete Meitzner said if the route is developed, it would create new business along Interstate 35 and expand the potential of the communities tapping into each other's workforce pools.

Wichita has been creating a master plan for downtown development over the last four years, with a focus on market dynamics between commercial, residential and other sectors to strengthen the economy. It seems to be working, said Jeff Fluhr, president of the Wichita Downtown Development Corp., as the city's core housing market has rebounded from the recession with more than 800 new units. The growing hospitality industry has led to the construction of new hotels and a new arena in 2010.

"We recognize that millennials coming into market comprise about 36 percent of the workforce; in five years, that number's going to be up to 50 percent," he said. "And they look at how cities are connected with multiple modes of transit.

"So one of the important things about this initiative is that it connects our regions and makes us all stronger as we take advantage of this centralized transportation corridor," he said.

Wichita is seeking as much as $3 million in Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant funds to complete environmental studies on a passenger rail route to Oklahoma City. The idea is to connect the Heartland Flyer with the Southwest Chief, both of which are run by Amtrak. Wichita plans to file the federal grant application this week.

"Once implemented, the extended passenger rail service and the improvements to the rail line would provide improved transportation access for businesses and citizens, create numerous economic development opportunities throughout the corridor, and improve the efficiency and reliability of freight movement on the rail line," transportation department officials said in a prepared joint statement this week. …

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