Oklahoma City (OKC) might not be famous for its public transportation – yet – but two OKC communities are gearing up for major transformation thanks to investments in public transportation. The City of Oklahoma City’s transit department – EMBARK – is working to expand public transportation to the Chickasaw Nation’s planned OKANA resort, which will provide access and opportunities for Oklahoma’s tourism industry Native American communities.

Many of those opportunities will come from the array of Chickasaw Nation operated businesses at the OKANA Resort, the $400 million resort that is currently under development and will include a riverfront hotel, spa, adventure lagoon, amphitheater, restaurants, Native American marketplace, and retail outlets. The OKANA resort will serve as a tourist destination – drawing people both to Oklahoma City and to the Chickasaw Nation – and is expected to have a billion-dollar impact on Oklahoma City within a decade.

A proposed bus rapid transit East Route would link the Tinker Air Force base with the planned OKANA resort. The Regional Transportation Authority of Central Oklahoma (RTA) recently approved a future Bus Rapid Transit alignment to provide public transit options to the Tinker Air Force Base, which will benefit military members and contractors who need to get to the base each day for work. It will also allow easier access from the base to leisure activities – like visiting local restaurants and shops. Tinker Air Force Base is Oklahoma’s largest single-site employer.

A $4 million grant for Oklahoma City was among $47.5 million in awards nationwide for 12 ferry services announced by the Federal Transit Administration in 2020. The 20% local match for the grant was provided primarily by the Chickasaw Nation, highlighting the value of the city and tribal partnership. Oklahoma City’s EMBARK transit is the only inland agency on the federal grant list, providing a unique opportunity for the city.

“OKANA Resort & Indoor Waterpark has been designed to complement the First Americans Museum’s focus on cultural experience as well as to connect visitors to other entertainment experiences along this established and vibrant part of the Oklahoma River. This ferry landing located near our resort will enable visitors to connect easily with the Boathouse District and other attractions along the river,” said Dan Boren, Chickasaw Nation Secretary of Commerce.

EMBARK has been in place since 1966, with changing names over the years. With these two new investments, EMBARK is proving that public transportation plays a huge role in the future of Oklahoma City – not only through expanded access but through the positive economic impact expanded transit will generate for the city, for local businesses, and for individual residents.

The Regional Transportation Authority of Central Oklahoma (RTA) is a regional, independent governmental agency established in 2019, under the laws of the State of Oklahoma.  The originating City councils from each member city – Edmond, Norman, and Oklahoma City, created the regional Authority by resolution.

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