Thunder suite-holders will be moved to new parking spaces, sections of the Bricktown Canal will be closed, and drivers will encounter frequent detours as contractors proceed with demolition of the old Interstate 40 Crosstown bridge.
The scheduled demolition follows unsuccessful lobbying by city officials to have the project delayed until after the NBA playoffs and the July Fourth weekend, one of the busiest seasons for visitor and tourist business in Bricktown.
Paul Green, division engineer with the Oklahoma Transportation Department, said Wednesday the demolition could not have started earlier (eastbound lanes of the new highway opened in January and westbound lanes in February) and cannot be delayed.
“There are access issues for I-40 for downtown that we want to address as fast as we can,” Green said. “Until we get that bridge down, there is no way we can get full access to downtown.”
Removal of the bridge starts this week and will immediately affect commuters who have chosen Western Avenue as their route to and from the new highway. Starting at 6 a.m. Thursday, such travelers will be detoured to nearby Classen Boulevard. Also to be closed this summer to both motorists and pedestrians are portions of Reno Avenue — a major corridor for the Chesapeake Energy Arena, Myriad Gardens and Bricktown.
Thunder suite-holders at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, meanwhile, were informed Wednesday night would be the last time the lots under the bridge would be available for parking.
Rick Cain, director of the Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority, said city officials asked state highway officials to consider delaying the bridge demolition until after late June, the expected end of the 2012 NBA playoffs.
About 350 spaces are provided to the suite-holders in the lots that date to the old highway's opening more than 40 years ago.
With no accommodation provided, Cain said an agreement was struck with owners of the former Bob Howard Ford Dealership lots west of the arena. The deal calls for $3,000 to be paid for each home game during the Thunder's playoff games.
The payments, Cain said, will be funded through proceeds the city trust collects from downtown garages.
Jeannette Smith, director of the Bricktown Association, said she is monitoring plans for the bridge demolition as it proceeds into the entertainment district. She is uncertain whether the demolition will affect access to the Land Run Monument south of the bridge, or parking lots located between the bridge and the Harkins theater.
“It's a busy time of the year for us,” Smith said. “Summer is not the best time for this, but what do you do?”
Green said the current schedule indicates up to 10 days will be needed to build a cover over the canal to shield it from falling debris. Up to another week or two will be needed for demolition.
“They may move faster; they may move slower,” Green said. “I can assure you … they are trying to make this as painless as they can.”