This was quite the week in terms of changes to Project 180. Now, a look back:
CRITICISM, CONFUSION ARISE OVER DOWNTOWN PROJECTS
By Steve Lackmeyer
| Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Edition: CITY, Section: BUSINESS, Page 1B
Oklahoma City officials have spent the past few months trying to prepare downtown workers for what is expected to be the worst traffic nightmare in decades with most streets to be torn up and rebuilt over the next four years.
But some also worry about whether more headaches will follow with the same streets to be torn up all over for the installation of a streetcar system.
“In a perfect world you want to integrate the streetscapes with the streetcars,” said downtown architect Anthony McDermid, who brought up the issue at a recent strategic planning session with merchants, planners and property owners. “It seems that would at least be the preferred sequence.”
Assistant City Manager Cathy O’Connor and Assistant Public Works Director Laura Story don’t argue McDermid’s point — but they say the two projects are on, and will remain on two very different timetables.
Project 180 started a year ago when the city, working with Devon Energy, created a new tax increment finance district funded by future property taxes from the company’s new tower. The two parties, along with representatives and local schools, libraries and the county, agreed to use the proceeds to rebuild all downtown streets, sidewalks, parks and public spaces.
In comparison, as Project 180 was being launched in early 2009, the streetcar system was just one of dozens of ideas being debated on projects for a MAPS 3 sales tax ballot that wasn’t even scheduled until summer.
“We do have this agreement to do streets around Devon’s development by the time their building is done — and those could not have waited,” O’Connor said.
Pending city council approval and timely utility relocation, Story expects the first wave of Project 180 construction to start in May with crews tearing up Robinson, Park, Walker and Reno Avenues.
O’Connor and Story admit the Project 180 schedule is ambitious, and it requires utility relocation by Oklahoma Natural Gas, Oklahoma Gas & Electric, Trigen, Oklahoma City water and sewer, 22 telecommunications companies and more.
“What drives the schedule and the order of our work will be the utility relocation so that we don’t leave anyone out of work, out of power, out of water, out of communication,” Story said.
With all this in play, some downtown workers like courier Travis Smith still wonder why Project 180 can’t be delayed until work starts on the streetcar system.
“I think that should be the first MAPS 3 project started,” Smith said. “Give it a year or two and we can get all done at once.”
O’Conner notes no schedule is set for MAPS 3 and won’t be until a citizens oversight board is created by the mayor that can investigate the timing of the project.
“I think the park has been talked about being one of the early projects with the boulevard construction coming up,” O’Connor said. “Figuring out where the convention center goes is an early project. And from there I think it will all fall in place.”
And with such tasks still ahead, O’Connor and Story say they don’t expect streetcar construction to begin until 2020 – six years after work is to be completed on Project 180.
Using a stretch of Sheridan Avenue between Robinson and Hudson as an example of expected scheduling, Story said the street likely will be torn up for up to 18 months for Project 180 with traffic in the area being constricted to just one lane.
Story expects the streetcar work on that same block, if chosen for the route, to take only three months with less than one lane being closed for the job.
Story said city engineers are doing all they can to design the Project 180 improvements in such a way that there will be minimal disruption for the streetcar work.
They already know they have to clear anything made of iron within four feet of any track. Story said utility relocations also are being planned to accommodate future streetcar installation.
O’Connor suggests downtown workers already are getting a glimpse of what’s ahead with all but one lane of Sheridan closed for utility relocation under way just south of the Devon tower site.
“It’s like the closure of Sheridan now for Devon,” O’Connor said. “It’s painful, but you get used to it. You still get through it.”