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Oklahoma Gets Serious About Transit Sooner Than Later

Oklahoma launched a new office to extend public transit to more rural areas in the state.

Public transit is catching on even in some of the reddest parts of America,  including Oklahoma where a new state office will oversee an overhaul of bus and rail service.

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation announced Monday it would form a new division tasked with developing the state's long-term transit policy after constituents clamored for more transit options and the state legislature passed a law authorizing the reorganization.

“The public in Oklahoma has probably never been more focused on transit,” ODOT Executive Director Tim Gatz told the Journal Record. “We have dedicated revenues at both the state and federal level that are available for transit services in both the urban and rural areas, and the department is the state’s designee to administer those funds for the rural operators.”

Staffers at the new Office of Mobility and Public Transit will be charged with conducting an audit of Oklahoma's existing public transit system to see where improvements can be made, managing federal grants, and expanding the state's rail and bus network to rural counties that are transit deserts.

That would include monitoring a once-stalled plan to extend passenger rail service between Tulsa and Oklahoma City. The Stillwater Central Railroad issued a request in June 2018 to find a private carrier to provide service between Sapulpa and Del City, while Oklahoma City and Tulsa officials planned to work with the railroad to expand the line.

The agency would also take over a $2.4-million federal program ensuring that Oklahoma's disabled and elderly passengers can afford public transit and that the system is fully accessible to them.

"They really provide a local level of service across the state,” Gatz said. “We’re going to continue to do everything we can to make it as easy as possible to the folks that are receiving those monies.”

Staffers will have one year to formulate the new statewide transportation policy.

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