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Street fight

City leaders hope a recommended design for a downtown boulevard will quell opponents who favor other options.

Clifton Adcock December 11th, 2012

A firm hired to consider engineering options for a section of the future downtown boulevard is recommending that an overpass will solve possible traffic issues, despite protests by some who favor other alternatives.

The public reviewed boulevard
options at a recent town meeting.
Credit: Mark Hancock

The recommendation was the topic of a public meeting Dec. 3. Officials from the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) and the city’s public works department heard representatives from Stantec explain their process and findings. The company was hired by the city in September to evaluate possible solutions to the complicated traffic issues that the boulevard will face near Western, Reno and Classen.

The construction of the boulevard is the final phase in the relocation of the Interstate 40 Crosstown Expressway. The new street will occupy the current right of way where the old I-40 ran. Construction cost is estimated at $30 million, much of it federally funded. On completion in 2014, ODOT will hand ownership to the city.

Around 250 people attended the meeting at the Coca-Cola Bricktown Events Center. Friends for a Better Boulevard, a group proposing a roundabout as a solution to the potential traffic problems, distributed literature condemning the would-be overpass.

One of the key goals for the boulevard is to provide new access both to and from downtown, said Eric Wenger, the city’s public works director.

“There’s a lot of challenges right now occurring on Western Avenue: Those commuting into downtown are seeing tremendous backup on I-40,” Wenger said. “Those that are trying to leave downtown, more specifically after game events, are having a hard time getting back on the interstate to the western corridor. The boulevard is absolutely necessary to provide that traffic [a way] in and out of downtown.”

The options
The Stantec team put the original 38 designs through rigorous tests to narrow the selection to four options, according to Williams Ferris, senior principal at Stantec.

In Option A, the boulevard passes over Western Avenue, with Western realigning with Classen to the north. The plan would require a retaining wall along part of the boulevard, something opposed by many businesses and individuals in the area.

Option B has the same Western-Classen alignment, but Western passes over the boulevard. It could create some access issues to Western for nearby businesses, as it requires a larger retaining wall and that Western be raised while the boulevard is lowered.

Under Option C, there would be a traffic-signal intersection at Western and the boulevard. It is likely this option would cause significant queuing at the traffic lights, Ferris said.

Option D features a three-lane traffic roundabout. While currently workable, Stantec officials noted that it could eventually fail within a few years as traffic increases.

Stantec recommends Option A.

Blair Humphreys
Credit: Mark Hancock

The firm suggested that plan provides superior development opportunities, better walkability, fewer utility impacts, stronger traffic flow and better integration into the surrounding transportation network.

“Fundamentally, we have the opportunity to change the image, the character of the corridor and provide a greatly enhanced arrival experience into the city,” Ferris said. “We support and serve the existing corridor business while leveraging surplus right of way to support long-term redevelopment opportunities.”

The opposition
While some citizens at the meeting supported Option A, a number spoke out against it, arguing that it would create a barrier between businesses and communities north and south of the boulevard.

Architect Blair Humphreys questioned why the boulevard must be designated as a bypass for I-40. Humphreys, who is executive director of the Institute for Quality Communities, noted that the proposal has already been altered once by lowering the number of lanes from six to four.

Oklahoma City architect Anthony McDermid said he was “baffled” that the conversation surrounding the boulevard has taken so long to come before the public. He said he’s concerned about the boulevard becoming a barrier if part of it is elevated.

“I understand the analysis has been thorough; I appreciate the process,” McDermid said. “I just want everyone in the room to understand that if we adopt [Option] A, there will be a tremendous amount of disconnect between the north side of the boulevard and the south side.”

McDermid also cautioned that the roadway disrupts the grid pattern of Oklahoma City’s street system and asked that more time be given to consider the alternatives.

Further public meetings are planned. People interested in seeing conceptual drawings or offering comment on the proposals can do so until Monday at

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