Streetcar construction causes hardships, optimism for city

Oklahoma City streetcar construction has meant many road closures as the tracks are constructed. (KOKH/Will Maetzold)

Construction for the new Oklahoma City streetcar downtown is impossible to miss. It has meant several road closures along the route, making it harder to get through downtown.

But MAPS project manager David Todd said it will be worth it, even with the inconvenience right now.

"We know that it's painful to live through this construction," Todd said. "We're doing the best that we can to minimize impact. There's just some things we cannot not do."

The streetcar is funded by the one-cent sales tax as parts of the MAPS 3 project voters approved in 2009. It will be completely paid for by the time it's expected to open in December.

But the biggest cost could be to the business owners along the route that had construction close them off to the public.

"It's been a slow, slow process," general manager of Kaiser's Grateful Bean Cafe Jack Pearson said.

Pearson said business has dropped 75 to 80-percent since streetcar construction began. He said the construction takes away parking spots and sometimes people can't cross the street to get to his restaurant.

"I don't think they realized how much it would affect us," Pearson said. "Especially with us, more than anybody, because we have no other access to parking except what we had here. I don't think they took that into account."

It has the restaurant reconsidering whether it can even stay open.

Todd said the weather has played a factor in completing construction as they try to help surrounding businesses through this time.

"You can't pour concrete when it's ten degrees outside," Todd said. "Again we have our liaison that is in touch with these owners all the time. We've done extra signs to try to make sure people know how to get around and get to these businesses."

At the Melting Pot restaurant in Bricktown, assistant general manager Colin Henson said they are looking forward to the opening.

"It puts your name up there with some of the bigger cities to actually have a bit of public transportation system that's affordable and easy," Henson said. "That's important to any city's infrastructure. I think it's a great idea we have it going."

Henson said the streetcar will make it much easier to get places downtown.

"I know personally coming from a Thunder game the other day whenever it was negative five degree windchill I would've much preferred to have the streetcar to take me where my car was," Henson said. "It's going to connect Bricktown. It's going to connect Midtown."

The city is banking on this, as well as bringing in more traffic to businesses.

"I don't think there's any doubt about it," Todd said. "It will change the whole environment of these areas we're talking about. Bring new customers and where there might be parking concerns and parking difficulties, those will be alleviated with this new form of transportation."

Streetcars will begin testing on the tracks in late summer and that will last all the way into December, when the system will open for the public.

Also, cars will be able to travel in the same lane as the streetcar and new signals will be installed at some intersections.

Todd said there are high expectations of what the streetcar will do for Oklahoma City.

"I think the proof also is in what other cities have done," Todd said. "The development that other cities have seen with the same kind of streetcar system. The development that happens along those routes."

The streetcar maintenance facility has already opened at SW 7th St. and Hudson Ave.

The first car is scheduled to be delivered to the city on Feb. 13 and they will keep coming in over the next several weeks until all seven are delivered.

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