NORMAN — A $12 million bridge straddling Interstate 35 in Norman may not be handling much traffic now but it could provide major relief once the city's University North Park shopping area is fully developed.
City officials say they are pleased with the new bridge at Rock Creek Road, which has increased traffic in the area by 200 percent since it opened in August 2011.
The ornate bridge, once jokingly referred to by some local residents as “the bridge to nowhere” because of how long it was under construction, is carrying roughly 3,200 vehicles each day.
In the future, as the University North Park shopping area continues to develop, it's projected the bridge could handle as many as 10,000 vehicles on a daily basis.
“Rock Creek Road west of I-35 carried less than 1,000 vehicles per day before the bridge was constructed,” said Angelo Lombardo, the city's traffic engineer. “The additional 2,000 vehicles per day using the bridge are coming from either Robinson Street or Tecumseh Road.”
How long it will be before the bridge is carrying 10,000 vehicles on a daily basis depends on the “development pace” in the shopping area, which has been under construction for the past several years.
“The fact is there is significant activity south of Rock Creek Road, including the construction of Legacy Park, a new grocery store and several new restaurants,” Lombardo said.
“Completion of this work could easily result in 2,000 to 3,000 more daily trips on the bridge.
“We anticipate a gradual increase until the area is fully developed.”
Shopping area grows
The University North Park shopping area, covering a swath of land purchased from the University of Oklahoma, has been growing since Super Target became the first tenant in late 2006.
The shopping area now has dozens of retailers, eateries and a major hotel and conference center. It's at Robinson Street and 24th Ave NW, just east of I-35.
And while there have been struggles along the way, city officials say long-term plans to build a large city park and additional shopping area remain on course.
Shawn O'Leary, the city's director of public works, said the long-delayed Legacy Park project is currently in the bidding process.
He said the director of the city's Parks and Recreation department is expected to recommend the city council award the contract “to the lowest and best bidder.”
“Construction of the project is expected to take 14 months from the notice to proceed,” O'Leary said.
O'Leary said the city is also moving forward with plans to build a second, more upscale shopping area on the east side.
The “Village Center” will be “a spectacular, pedestrian-friendly, high-scale shopping district,” if tenants start coming forward to develop the eastern portion of University North Park, he said.
“The infrastructure is also well under way with the recent completion of the new intersection at 24th Avenue NW and Legacy Park Drive,” O'Leary said. “I anticipate that the first tenant in the Village Center may come forward soon, if the economy continues to improve.”