Governor Kevin Stitt passed a ceremonial key to Mayor David Holt for the new Oklahoma City Boulevard Monday kicking off the final phase of development for a controversial project.
The boulevard now runs east and west from the I-40/I-235 interchange near downtown and merges into I-40 near N. Villa on the west. It dissects Myriad Gardens Park on the north and the new Scissortail Park under construction to the south.
The Oklahoma Department of Transportation has built the boulevard as the last phase of the entire I-40 project and is turning it over to the City of Oklahoma City once completed.
The boulevard follows the right of way of the original elevated I-40 Crosstown Expressway which was removed once the I-40 corridor was moved five blocks to the south.
Pointing toward the new Scissortail Park still under construction on the south side of the boulevard, Holt made glowing remarks about the opportunities that he thinks lie ahead.
“There’s a lot of opportunity down here,” said Holt in his speech. “This beautiful $130 million, 70-acre park is largely surrounded by undeveloped land. So we’re very excited about all of those opportunities.”
He said that when I-40 ran along that corridor “downtown just flat ended here.”
Moving the I-40 corridor south five blocks gave city leaders the “opportunity to dream big” resulting in Scissortail Park, the new Convention Center, and hotel.
The original ODOT design looked more like a downtown business loop of the Interstate as seen in other cities.
Most of the roadway was supposed to be above grade (surface level) with few traffic signals and virtually cutting one part of the area west of downtown in two again, only this time much more dramatically.
Citizens, community leaders, and the press continued to raise concerns about the proposed design. ODOT engineers held meetings to listen to concerned citizens and reveal options for the development of the west end of the boulevard.
Oklahoma Department of Transportation engineers eventually worked with community leaders on a design that would be at grade with many more signaled intersections, room for trees, sidewalks, and slower traffic.
Yet, when aerial photos of the boulevard as it neared completion close to the Myriad Gardens came out on social media, the response was not positive.
“Nice highway,” quipped long-time city resident Tracey Zeeck in one of the more moderate responses.
Others have been alarmed at how wide the boulevard is, making it daunting to just cross from one park to the other.
The wide boulevard is clearly designed to optimize the flow of auto and truck traffic.
After the ceremony Monday, Free Press talked with Holt about concerns citizens still had with a big, wide, highway-like roadway in the middle of what is supposed to be a walkable and bike-friendly part of the city.
He reminded us that he was only an observer while all of the decision-making was going on around the boulevard and that the city still had $4 million to spend.
“Even though we opened it today, it’s not the finished product, not from the aesthetic perspective and the pedestrian perspective,” said Holt. “The road part of it is done, but the pedestrian amenities are yet to come.”
In the near future, city crews will start planting the 996 trees that have been ordered, said Holt.
Safety concerns Tuesday
The intersections are supposed to be signalized, but the new equipment was not fully installed and/or functional by the morning rush hour Tuesday.
Instead, temporary stop signs had been placed at all of the intersections where major roads crossed.
The intersection of N. Walker and Oklahoma City Boulevard caused the most concern for drivers because it was only a two-way stop that did not make Walker cross-traffic stop.
Other intersections before that one in either direction had four-way stops. Drivers who used the street first thing Tuesday were concerned the intersection was ripe for accidents.
As concern grew throughout the morning, Holt reported on social media that city traffic engineers and ODOT engineers were meeting in the field to work on better solutions.
By noon crews were installing stop signs at the Walker intersection to make it a four-way stop.
Although ODOT Media and Public Relations staff were very helpful for the opening Mondy, none were immediately available for comment concerning the Tuesday traffic concerns.
The project that opened Monday came in at $27 million which was the last part of a much larger $730 million project moving the I-40 corridor five blocks south with much more capacity for the mix of heavy commuter and out-of-state traffic on the heavily-used interstate highway.
Once I-40 was moved, the old I-40 elevated structure was torn down and useable beams from the bridge repurposed throughout the state to rebuild county bridges.
The ODOT considered the moving of the I-40 corridor south, tearing down the old crosstown bridge, and establishing the new boulevard in the old I-40 corridor to be one project.
The two-decade project spanned the entire careers of some individuals on the ODOT staff.
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