OKC LEADERS ARE WORRIED ABOUT SIX-LANE THOROUGHFARE’S WIDTH IN INTERSTATE 40 PROJECT
Boulevard causing concern
By Steve Lackmeyer
Saturday, September 4, 2010
Edition: CITY, Section: BUSINESS, Page 1C
The state’s top highway official this week promised that a boulevard intended to replace Interstate 40 south of downtown can be narrowed from its current plan of six lanes if that is the wish of Oklahoma City leaders.
Gary Ridley, director of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, also said the $85 million allocated in the agency’s latest eight-year plan should allow for complete construction of the highway and boulevard by 2014.
The boulevard’s proposed six-lane width — wider than a section of Northwest Expressway in far northwest Oklahoma City — have concerned city leaders who want to see the area developed as a new mixed-use downtown neighborhood.
“We’re not going to build something the city doesn’t want,” Ridley said in an interview Wednesday following a presentation at the Skirvin Hilton Hotel.
The boulevard has been a part of the $660 million I-40 relocation since the start — but only in the past couple of years have concerns arisen about the width. Consultant Jeff Speck, hired to suggest ways to make downtown more pedestrian friendly, called the planned boulevard “a highway with trees” in a report provided last year to the city council.
The boulevard has been a centerpiece of Mayor Mick Cornett’s dream of expanding the urban core into a mixed-use community dubbed Core to Shore — a currently blighted area between the current highway, the Oklahoma River and Bricktown.
“Six lanes of traffic won’t work from all my research and efforts to study great streets around the world,” said Cornett, who led the effort to bring Speck to Oklahoma City. “You hate to say there is absolutely one width I’m acceptable to, but this street is very special, and it needs to have the highest level of care. We need the best engineering firm we can find to meet everyone’s needs.”
Ridley said the boulevard’s estimated cost — $85 million — is included in the latest eight-year highway funding plan.
“At today’s prices, we think we’re pretty close with that,” Ridley said. “We haven’t designed it yet, so we don’t have all the prices in. But we bid jobs recently where prices came in 20 percent under what we budgeted.”
Ridley said the six-lane width was part of the original plans developed in conjunction with city officials, but he acknowledged plans and goals can and have changed over the past decade. He said any revised boulevard width would need to be submitted to the Federal Highway Administration for review — an action successfully pursued when a planned pedestrian bridge over the new I-40 was moved to a spot east of Union Station.
“When we build the boulevard, we will work with the city to build something they can use,” Ridley said. “And we will design something they will want — within reason. Obviously all the extra amenities (landscaped medians, lighting, sidewalks and signage) are a separate issue.”
Cornett noted city voters already approved bond funding for such improvements, key to making the boulevard a gateway to downtown. He added it was a relief when the boulevard funding was announced earlier this month — the last such opportunity under the administration of Gov. Brad Henry before he leaves office in January.
A new grand entryway is being added to the Ford Center facing the boulevard alignment, and the road also will skirt the north boundary of a large central park funded by MAPS 3.
“Postcards of the future will be the park and the boulevard,” Cornett said. “It needs to be a place and not just a street where we see how fast we can get cars around.”