Plans for a grand boulevard in downtown Oklahoma City will become clearer Tuesday when the city council votes on a small aspect of the project that has stirred a big controversy.
Despite vocal and written protests from a group of concerned citizens — and at least one member of the council — approval is expected of a plan that would send boulevard traffic across a combined Western-Classen corridor via an overpass.
The proposed bridge is smaller than what was originally considered by the council in developing the boulevard, but the plan has met opposition from transit-minded residents who insist any overpass would divide north and south downtown.
“It divides a good portion of Oklahoma City where there will probably not be any development because of this, and there's no access — you can't get from the north side of this to the south side because all the streets are cut off,” said Bob Kemper, who works in transportation engineering and has taken on the role of spokesman for Friends for a Better Boulevard.
While some city officials call the latest plan a compromise between the initial project specifications and desires of the Friends group, Kemper said the Friends remain steadfast that a roundabout at the intersection — or an entirely new boulevard design — would be preferable.
“We're going to speak and voice our concerns, and there will be several of us,” Kemper said of Tuesday's meeting.
“We're going to ask the city to slow down the project until we have a full evaluation.”
Eric Wenger, who heads the Public Works Department, said he thinks most members of the city council are satisfied with public involvement in developing the boulevard.
The plan all along has been to fill the footprint of the old Interstate 40 — reopened last year several blocks south of downtown — with an east-west road that makes downtown more accessible to interstate traffic, Wenger said.
The revised plan — recommended to the city council by an outside consulting group that studied 38 options for the corridor — calls for fewer lanes and a smaller elevated section and incorporates some pedestrian- and development-friendly elements to the area, Wenger said.