Copies of an email from Eric Wenger, the city’s public works director, began popping up on OKC Talk in response to inquiries about the boulevard project. I’ll admit, I gave only a scant read of the email and first thought, meh, that’s about right. But then I looked at it again this weekend. Keep in mind, Eric Wenger is a hard-working guy. But he’s also a city employee who more than once instructed MAPS 3 committees that they had no flexibility with the proposed $30 million purchase of an OG&E substation or the proposed 2014 completion of the Core to Shore park due to “city council instructions.” It was after I dug into when and where such instructions were given that the details got a bit fuzzy, and then the council itself insisted it gave no such instructions.
So there’s that.
Now we have the email below, provided to me by multiple folks who say it was sent to them by Wenger in response to their inquiries about the boulevard. Now, please note what is plain simple fact: as proposed and being pushed by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and supported by the city’s engineers, the boulevard is being designed so that seven blocks will be at-grade, five blocks will be elevated, and a few more blocks on the eastern half in Bricktown will be either sub-grade (under the BNSF tracks) or elevated again as the road reconnects with I-40 east of downtown.
If ODOT is allowed to proceed with its preferred design, the boulevard will be elevated for five blocks east of Western Avenue. Now read how Wenger characterizes the elevated road: “The current design ground level portion begins just east of Western Avenue and extends to the east of Oklahoma Avenue, near the Harkins Theater.”
Maybe I’m missing something here… but using the same logic and same measurements, does that mean he would also characterize the jail as “just west of Devon Energy Center”? These are just questions going round and round in my head as I try to understand all of this…
Anyway, here’s a copy of the email:
I received your email, and very much appreciate your interest in the Oklahoma City Boulevard project. Although the Oklahoma Department of Transportation is managing the project, they have been working closely with the City of Oklahoma City and many ideas about the overall design have been discussed. There are numerous options being considered for the various components of the new roadway, including how to best address traffic flow but also to consider important elements such as future development and walkability. At this time, no decisions regarding a final design have been made.
Your concern about the Boulevard being elevated is shared by many, but I believe it is due to lack of drawings and renderings that are not yet available. Although the Boulevard includes elevated sections to provide access and connections to I-44, and also to I-35/I-235, there is a significant portion of ground level roadway that is being designed to ensure opportunities for downtown access and future development. The current design ground level portion begins just east of Western Avenue and extends to the east of Oklahoma Avenue, near the Harkins Theater. This nearly 10 block section will also create several new intersections at Walker, Hudson, Harvey, Robinson, Broadway, Gaylord, and Oklahoma. In addition, since the new roadway will be narrower than the former highway, many areas of the existing highway right-of-way adjacent to the new boulevard will be available to further enhance development opportunities.
I want to give you every assurance the City will maintain its partnership with ODOT, with the goal to develop a new boulevard that will significantly enhance the downtown area. In order to provide better information, City staff is working with ODOT to make a presentation to the City Council on July 31st, 8:30am which will be during their regular meeting. This meeting is aired on Cox Channel 20 and will also be available on the City’s website at www.okc.gov. ODOT has also planned a public meeting on August 21st, 5:30pm, in the Coca Cola Event Center. Both will be opportunities to see what progress has been made, and also to share thoughts and ideas from a public perspective about the project.
Thanks again for your interest, and I hope you will take the opportunity to follow the update to Council and also participate in the upcoming public meeting.
Eric J. Wenger, P.E.
Director Public Works/City Engineer