The Oklahoma City Council's approval of a plan for one section of the downtown boulevard moves the project a bit closer to completion. But the finish line is still down the road a piece. Gary Evans, chief engineer for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, the agency that will build the boulevard, said this week that construction may be delayed for up to two years because of changes in the original design.
ODOT had hoped to award the first bids on the project in August, with work getting under way late in 2012. This would have put the agency on track to finish the boulevard in late 2014. But now construction apparently won't begin until 2014, with completion in 2016.
The boulevard will follow the path of the former Interstate 40 Crosstown Expressway, an elevated stretch of highway that was torn down after completion of the new I-40 crosstown built farther to the south. The hope was for the boulevard to be constructed soon after, providing motorists entry into downtown. But now the timeline has been pushed back.
This is disappointing but not a total surprise. After all, the boulevard was first proposed about a decade ago — downtown looked much different then. And city officials did the right thing by slowing the process in order to address concerns raised about the design. The city council on Tuesday approved the revised plan for one section of the roadway; approval for other sections is still to come.
And because federal money is being used to pay for the boulevard, the Federal Highway Administration must give final approval. That could come late this year, but this is the federal government we're talking about.
City Manager Jim Couch said the delay should be closer to 14 months. Bottom line: Oklahoma City is getting a downtown boulevard, just not as soon as many would have hoped.