BY TOM ELMORE
Ernest J. Istook?
Despite Oklahoma’s longstanding wealth of rail assets, former 5th District Congressman Ernest Istook did all in his power to talk-down and impede rail development here for 14 years. While standing as a railway roadblock in his alleged home state, he was using partly-Oklahoma-derived tax dollars to fund extensive light rail and commuter rail development in the home of his “spiritual brethren,” Salt Lake City, Utah.
He cleared the way for Salt Lake Light Rail funding in 1996 — so the services would be available in time for the 2002 Winter Olympics. He provided funding for the “Front Runner” commuter trains, 60 per day, linking population centers in Salt Lake/Provo to the south and Ogden to the north to Hill Air Force Base, competitor to Oklahoma City’s Tinker Air Force Base. This makes the Utah base the only USAF Air Logistics Center in the nation with oil-crisis-proof-workforce-mobility.
Simultaneously, he energetically funded the Oklahoma Department of Transportation’s needless destruction of Oklahoma City’s Union Station rail yard, last unused, grand, historic capital-city rail passenger hub in the West with all its original train-handling space intact — and center of the state’s unique, 900-mile state-owned railway network.
Meanwhile, out in Arizona, then-Gov. Janet Napolitano had hit static with her Phoenix-Tempe light rail plan. It was being blocked by her Mormon-stronghold state’s own “LDS-conservative-Republican legislators.”
So, she made a pilgrimage to Salt Lake in September 2004 to visit 93-year-old LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley. Three months later, U.S. House Transportation Subcommittee Chair Ernest Istook and Senate counterpart Richard Shelby appeared in Phoenix, reportedly with a pledge of $587 million for the project — which by then also included extension to the Mormon Regional Temple in Mesa.
Check it out for yourself, folks.
Also, check recent business news to see how well Salt Lake is performing economically today — highly rated among “the first big post-recession jobs producers.”
And Oklahoma? Well, if the “New I-40 Crosstown” opens in 2012 as promised, we’ll have another four miles of expressway we can’t afford to maintain — and no rail hub. Add that to the state’s existing $40 billion-plus “unfunded highway maintenance requirement” — and of course, the additional cost of creating a “new rail transit hub.”
Yep. After last year’s complete obliteration of city-owned Union Station’s eight-block-long, 12-track-wide rail yard and its magnificent, hand-built arterial street underpasses, metro leaders now suddenly claim they’re “hot-on-the-trail” of a “real rail transit system.”
And former Congressman Istook? He’s working for the big shot corporatists at Heritage. They ginned up the “highways-only-monopoly” in this country, the “concrete cross” to which we are all nailed — and they apparently enjoy it. Nor do they mind sending “YOUR children” to war to prop it up.
What do “Republican conservatives” like Istook mean when they say “no public subsidy?” They mean — “none for you.”
It’s all reserved for “their special friends.”
Not angry about this? Perhaps you just don’t understand the situation.
– The author, executive director of the North American Transportation Institute, lives in Moore, OK and is an occasional contributor to The Oklahoma Observer