During a previous council meeting, some council members said they were unaware of plans that include an elevated bridge over the area near W. Reno Avenue, S. Classen Boulevard and S. Western Avenue. A citizens group, Friends for a Better Boulevard, wants the city and state Department of Transportation to consider other options.
The boulevard is the final part of the relocation of the Interstate 40 Crosstown Expressway, and will be linked to the new highway at both the east and west ends. The city and state agency are working together on the project.
Of $80 million in federal funds scheduled for the creation of the boulevard, $50 million will go toward the east and west connections. That leaves around $30 million for the street itself, which will be turned over to the city upon completion, said ODOT Chief Engineer Gary Evans.
The difficulties presented by the current street layout near S. Classen, S. Western and W. Reno have led engineers to devise a bridge. Nevertheless, city Public Works Director Eric Wenger said a roundabout or traditional intersections are still being explored.
Bob Kemper of Friends for a Better Boulevard said many businesses are concerned about being cut off from the rest of downtown, which would defeat one of the aims of eliminating the elevated highway. His organization has presented concept drawings of a five-leg roundabout to work around the problem.
“They feel like if we get another bridge dividing it, they’re going to be in slums for the next 100 years,” said Kemper, who created the citizens group.
Evans said ODOT is not opposed to a traffic circle or roundabout, and that the idea has been informally discussed by the agency and the city.
He stressed, however, that a traffic circle would require time for studies and additional property acquisition, and likely would delay the federally funded project.
Kemper said much of the surrounding property for a traffic circle is already owned by ODOT or the city, so property acquisition — and any resulting delay — would be minimal.
“It’s a better way than a high-speed exit ramp downtown,” he said. “[The process has] got to be more open. If we have to have some hearings, it’s not going to delay things over a month or two.”
Ultimately, it would be the city’s call on what to place in that area, Evans said. The agency would pass any new city proposals to the Federal Highway Administration for approval or rejection.
Meanwhile, Wenger said there are engineering challenges with a roundabout and at-grade intersections in the area where S. Western and S. Classen intersect W. Reno, and that the bridge idea has been studied for years and fits into the current design.
No decision has been made yet on the issue, Wenger said.
At any rate, he said, the project is ultimately ODOT’s. Wenger said there has never been a suggestion by ODOT that the city take the lead to lay out what should go in the area.
Another bump ahead?
Kemper said some business owners also are unhappy about the portion of the boulevard west of the proposed bridge. Because it will be on the current roadbed — on a berm up to S. Pennsylvania Avenue — some are concerned it would limit access to the boulevard from other streets passing underneath it.
Wenger said the west end of the boulevard will remain slightly elevated.
ODOT officials on Aug. 21 will hold a public meeting on the boulevard plans.
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