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Road to a vote


A controversial proposal for a downtown boulevard heads toward a city council vote.

Clifton Adcock January 2nd, 2013

A plan to build the downtown boulevard with an elevated section over Western Avenue will likely be presented to the Oklahoma City Council for approval Tuesday.

Credit: Mark Hancock

However, at least one group, Friends for a Better Boulevard (FBB), opposes the idea and will continue to request that the council consider a “no build” option.

The boulevard is set to be built in the old Interstate 40 crosstown right of way. The project, headed by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT), is being paid for by $30 million in federal funds as part of the larger I-40 realignment.

The disagreements surrounding the future boulevard have evolved over the months and years since design on the project began. Early ideas from ODOT featured a six-lane boulevard, but that was reduced to four after city officials objected.

Worries about the boulevard have persisted from the beginning, and some changes have been made along the way. The route was shifted south to accommodate the MAPS 3 convention center. Ongoing concerns include the possibility that the boulevard would create a zigzag entry into Bricktown and interfere with the route for the planned commuter rail.

But the most divisive issue is a section of the road that was set to navigate the complex traffic area around Classen Boulevard, Western Avenue and Reno Avenue.

ODOT originally planned to elevate the boulevard and allow the streets to pass under it. Objections raised over the summer spurred the state agency to bring in a consultant, Stantec, to study the plan, as well as alternative designs that included a roundabout favored by the FBB.

In November, Stantec presented its findings and four viable options, with a recommendation that Classen be connected to Western to go under the boulevard, which would have a smaller elevated portion than in the initial plan.

Eric Wenger
credit: Mark Hancock

FBB members were unimpressed.

Joined by business owners in southwest downtown, the group said Stantec presented options that had been improperly limited. Opponents challenged contentions by the city and ODOT that all designs must make the boulevard an alternate route for I-40 traffic in the event that the crosstown is shut down for an emergency.

A no-build option would allow the boulevard to end at the area in dispute rather than disrupting the street grid. No such option was considered, despite Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) requirements that it be included, according to FBB head Bob Kemper.

“There seems to be quite a gulf of what the overwhelming majority of Oklahoma City residents wants and what the City Council wants,”Kemper said.

He charged that an elevated boulevard would create a “Berlin Wall” cutting southwest downtown off from development.

City Public Works Director Eric Wenger said the boulevard must serve to move traffic into and out of downtown, to ease congestion that has plagued the area after the I-40 realignment.

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Stantec is scheduled to present its recommendation for the elevated portion.

FBB members will also be at the meeting. Whatever decision is made, Kemper said, the group intends to remain part of the conversation.

“In the event there [are] no other options other than what Oklahoma City wants, we’re going to be talking about ways it can be improved,” he said. “We expect to continue to have a voice in this project until it’s built. We’re not through yet and we’re not going to fade into the night either way.”

The boulevard is scheduled to be complete in 2014.


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