The City of Claremore’s elevated track project may be getting a $15 million shot in the arm, courtesy of the State of Oklahoma, as announced this morning by Rep. Tad Jones and Sen. Sean Burrage.

Speaking near the BNSF track near Pixley’s Lumber in Claremore, Burrage and Jones announced plans to ask state officials to secure $15 million in state funding for the elevation of the BNSF railroad crossing through Claremore.

“Currently, we’ve got a couple of major projects in the works — making US 412 four lanes, and the Highway 20 bypass project, even though nothing has yet been started on Highway 20,” Jones said. “Because of rapidly increasing costs, it became apparent there would not be enough funding available to complete the Highway 20 project as envisioned.

“Instead, after considerable discussions with Claremore city leaders and ODOT, we’re going to plan on taking $15 million from the Highway 20 project and commit it toward the elevated track project,” Jones said. “These funds already are included in the state’s eight-year transportation plan, and because of the tremendous growth in Rogers County and the increasing use of rail transport, the timing is right for us to build an overpass and reduce the congestion in Claremore.”

Two weeks ago, the Claremore City Council unanimously approved a resolution to request state support for the track project.

The resolution asked ODOT to divert money originally allocated for the State Highway 20 bypass and redirect a portion of it toward the elevation of the BNSF train crossing.

Jones and Burrage will be presenting their request to ODOT for final approval in early October. Jones said he is “extremely confident” it will be met with approval.

“With the ODOT Commission’s approval, and we don’t anticipate any reason why there would be a problem, the next piece of the pie will be in place to secure federal funding for the elevated track,” he said.

Cost for the project has been estimated between $45 million and $55 million, with commitments from the City of Claremore at $10 million, from the state expected at $15 million, and from the federal government at $10 million, upon securing state funding.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe has committed $1 million to the project at $200,000 per crossing with the potential of more to follow.

Rogers County has declined any fiduciary participation in the project.

Should ODOT approve the request for the redirection of funding toward the track, monies could be set aside and available as early as 2010, according to ODOT director Gary Ridley.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with Troy (Claremore City Manager Troy (Powell), Tad and Sean over the past 10 months on this,” Ridley said. “We’ve made several trips to Olathe, Kan., where a similar project was recently completed, to talk with their city’s leaders to arrive at a workable plan to make an elevated track a reality in Claremore.”

“This is a vital project for Claremore and all of Rogers County,” Burrage, said. “We believe this project will have a positive impact on our local economy and everyday life in Claremore.”

Ridley, who credited former State Sen. Stratton Taylor with laying much of the foundation on which the current highway projects are built, said the work of Jones and Burrage has been instrumental in the project.

“This is a project that really makes sense for Rogers County,” Ridley said. “Working with Claremore’s city officials and Sen. Burrage and Rep. Jones on this has been an extremely fruitful process. The two legislators differ politically, but they both have a common goal in seeing this project through completion.”

Although Jones said he has heard concerns about the potential for the track being an “eyesore,” he said the intention for the track is to match aesthetics with functionality.

“The engineering and the design work for the project has yet to be done, so nothing has set there, but we are hoping for the overpass to be as visually appealing as it can be while serving its purpose of relieving congestion in and around the city,” he said. “Also, we’re looking into how the elevated track could impact businesses along the BNSF track — specifically, Melton’s, Stillwater Milling, Pixley’s. We are in conversations with them right now about how the project could affect them.”

Citizen involvement with the design of the proposed elevated track will be scheduled at a future date.