Relocation of Interstate 40 through central Oklahoma City was supposed to take six to eight years once funding was in place, according to a 1997 projection. Instead it took 15 years.
A boulevard to replace the relocated I-40 will also take longer than expected. And that's a good thing. Doing this right is more important than doing it quickly.
I-40 is a critical, nationwide artery. The elevated portion running south of downtown was in bad shape and had long passed its sell-by date. Getting the replacement open, which happened early this year, was time-sensitive. Getting the boulevard open is vital as well but not in the same way.
The relocation was slowed by disputes over the route, neighborhood mitigation concerns and funding shortages. Those delays were a factor in the relocation costing as much as three times the original $240 million estimate. That's all water under the overpass now. The new I-40 is carrying cars and trucks; the former route is being dismantled.
We're not discouraged by prolonged discussions about the boulevard. The design must be one for the ages rather than one for the next decade. The intensity of interest in how this plays out should be celebrated, not condemned.
While the freeway relocation was criticized for its potential adverse affects on an old railway station and a Hispanic neighborhood, the boulevard design proposals are drawing fire for wavering from an at-grade roadway to a partially elevated one. About 500 people turned out Tuesday for a hearing on the design. That's an incredible number and an indication of how much citizens care about this.
As a state Transportation Department engineer put it, “If you want to take the time to do it right, then take the time to do it right.”
Rather than a tussle over a right of way, this one is about doing it the right way.