The last two years have seen unprecedented attempts by Washington to socially engineer people away from the lifestyles that modern conditions make necessary. One such effort was to attract people away from cars to intercity rail services and transit instead. Never mind that there is no U.S. evidence that material diversion is possible (at any expense), and never mind that such programs would make travel more expensive and usually slower.
The Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) has been a willing participant in these efforts. The United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) funded projects consistent with this anti-automobile “vision” under the discredited “stimulus” bill (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009). ODOT was among the recipients of USDOT’s largesse, having proposed a replacement for the westbound I-244 bridge across the Arkansas River near downtown Tulsa. Oklahoma caught the attention of USDOT because it proposed a bridge that included a lower deck for intercity rail (wrongly called high-speed rail) and light rail, and was awarded $49.5 million. An additional $37 million will be required from Oklahoma.
The problem is that neither intercity rail nor light rail is likely to be built in the near future. Indeed, the new bridge itself could become obsolete and require replacement before any intercity rail or light rail projects are built (if ever).
There is, however, an even more important issue. ODOT has rated both I-244 spans as structurally deficient. Replacing both spans without the second deck would cost about $100 million, not that much more than the $87 million for the single bridge with the lower deck that will probably never be used. After the loss of lives from the structurally deficient Minneapolis I-35W bridge collapse in 2007, safety should trump social engineering. The last thing Oklahoma needs is a “bridge to nowhere” monument to Washington’s policy fantasies.