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Flashback: Route Chosen for New Interstate 40

by Steve Lackmeyer Published: July 29, 2012

This story is from the meeting that Jack Money and I showed up at, uninvited:

Crosstown Road Plan Unveiled Southern Route Selected For Rebuilt Interstate 40

By Jack Money, Steve Lackmeyer

Staff Writers

Thursday, December 10, 1998

Edition: CITY, Section: NEWS, Page 01

The state Transportation Department told local leaders Wednesday they will rebuild Interstate 40 several blocks south of downtown Oklahoma City despite continued opposition to the plan.

But an environmental impact study the transportation department will conduct as part of its planning could leave the old, elevated Crosstown Expressway up and operating as an easy path for commuters in and out of downtown.

State Transportation Secretary Neal McCaleb made that promise to Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys, two council members, two state highway commissioners and a dozen other people who met in an “executive briefing” about the transportation department’s plans.

McCaleb offered the suggestion after Humphreys said the southernmost route, referred to as “route D,” would make it difficult for people trying to get downtown from north and west Oklahoma City.

Route D would take the interstate as far as five or six blocks south of its current alignment between Agnew Avenue and its interchange with Interstate 235.

“My point is this,” Humphreys said. “The interstate now makes it easy for people coming from the west and north to get downtown in a hurry when they need to.

“But when you move the interstate south by the river, that easy access goes away because then people will have to travel down blocks and blocks of city streets to get where they are going.”

McCaleb said the elevated highway could be an alternative to a ground-level, tree-lined boulevard proposed for construction along the Crosstown’s current pathway. The boulevard would be connected to the interstate at each of its ends.

Humphreys agreed the boulevard would be more aesthetically pleasing, but would take too long to drive.

McCaleb, however, when asked who would maintain the existing highway, said, “I don’t want to address that question at this point. But someone is going to have to.”

Council members Ann Simank and Mark Schwartz joined Humphreys in criticizing the plan.

Simank said she worries the southern route, built at or below ground level along the path of railroad tracks, will divide her Riverside Neighborhood, a center of Hispanic heritage in Oklahoma City.

But federal highway administration representatives attending the meeting said the railroad tracks already divide the neighborhood. North-south streets passing under the tracks can be rebuilt to cross over the completed highway, they said.

McCaleb and project engineer David Streb said the southernmost alignment is the best for several reasons. These include the alignment’s cost of $237 million compared with a $307 million price tag for option B-3, the path city leaders prefer.

They said option D can carry more vehicles at higher speeds than option B-3, according to the state’s consulting engineers. However, other traffic engineers hired by the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority don’t agree.

McCaleb and Streb said option D has the least impact on the minority community’s employment. Streb said both it and B-3, which would take the interstate a couple of blocks south of the existing Crosstown, would relocate businesses.

But a large co-op mill would have to be relocated to make room for that highway alignment. It would not have to be moved for Option D.

McCaleb and Streb said option D would take the least amount of time to build.

“Those are the most compelling arguments that would encourage us to proceed with the environmental impact study on option D,” McCaleb said.

Streb said construction time is key.

“With alternate D… we can build it in phases, leaving your access to downtown just like it is now. That construction time is five years,” he said.

Streb said it would take about eight years to build option B-3. Drivers would be forced to dodge barriers and barrels for much of the construction project.

“The other hard part about this is that once we start construction, it will stay a construction zone until it is finished,” he said.

Humphreys left Wednesday’s meeting disappointed.

“I think the D route as proposed today is very negative to downtown Oklahoma City, from any perspective except to Bricktown,” Humphreys said.

City leaders had favored route B-3 because it was closer to downtown and would not leave downtown with dozens of blighted city blocks needing to be redeveloped.

He added that he and other local leaders would work with what the state proposes.

But Schwartz wasn’t so charitable.

Schwartz said he will oppose the preferred selection in Washington, D.C., adding that he has assurances from federal officials that they will not endorse a highway that divides a Hispanic community.

So far, $103 million has been reserved for the I-40 relocation project.

McCaleb began the meeting by informing participants that it would be public, although he hoped it would not be.

He said he had hoped that members of the citizens advisory committee appointed to help select a new I-40 route could hear about the transportation department’s plans prior to seeing them reported.

“Although this meeting was kind of intended as an executive briefing intended for the community leaders of Oklahoma City, we have been joined by members of the press. And so, everything we say today is for public consumption,” McCaleb said.

“That is regrettable, because the citizens advisory board has been working for us in this process for three years,” he said.

 

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by Steve Lackmeyer
Business Reporter
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter and columnist who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's Metropolitan...
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