The load on one of the worst bridges in the country has been reduced in half.
The eastbound lanes of the new Interstate 40 Crosstown opened Thursday for traffic.
The four-mile stretch of roadway runs from about the Interstate 44 junction east to the junction with Interstates 35 and 235. Westbound lanes should open for traffic in three to eight weeks.
The new 10-lane roadway, a major thoroughfare not only for Oklahoma City but for the country, is replacing the longest structurally deficient bridge in the state, which has undergone repeated emergency repairs over the years. A crack was discovered in 1989 in one of the pier beams.
Planning work started in 1996 to develop a new roadway. Construction began in 2005.
“This has been a project that has been a long time coming,” Gov. Mary Fallin said.
“The I-40 Crosstown is a major corridor for transportation of goods, of services, for visitors, for tourists, for our people of the state of Oklahoma to travel up and down this highway,” she said. “It's important that we have a safe, reliable, effective, efficient transportation system ... in our capital city.”
Because of structural concerns, the elevated Crosstown, which was built in 1965, is inspected every six months; most bridges are inspected once every two years.
The cost of inspections and upkeep is more than $1 million a year for the elevated Crosstown. Weight-restricted trucks are banned from the bridge, which when it was built had state-of-the-art features. The fracture-critical bridge design, ramps and narrow shoulders are inadequate by today's standards.
State Transportation Department Director Gary Ridley said the new roadway will be safer and will be able to handle traffic volume for years to come. Ridley thanked the state's congressional delegation and state and local officials for working together to make the project a reality.
Ridley, transportation director since 2001, said Fallin, who earlier served as the state's lieutenant governor and in the U.S. House of Representatives, was a key supporter of the new roadway.
“She wanted to make sure that we got the people off of the bridge as quickly as we could, wanted to make sure it was safe all of the time that we were using it and that was always her prime concern,” Ridley said.
Motorists began driving on the five lanes about 12:30 p.m. Thursday, about two hours after federal, state and local officials took part in a ceremony on the roadway near the Western Avenue bridge. Afterward, a convoy of 150 vehicles, including antique cars and trucks representing Oklahoma businesses, were given the signal to drive down the roadway. The roadway was opened to regular traffic later.
Changes for drivers
Drivers will have to adjust to different on- and off-ramps. Eastbound off-ramps are at Agnew, Pennsylvania and Western avenues and Shields Boulevard. Eastbound on-ramps are at Pennsylvania, Western and Shields.
The new Crosstown is about five blocks south of the existing, crumbling roadway. It is the most expensive highway project in the state because it involves realigning the roadway and replacing a bridge with a ground-level and partly underground roadway. About $570 million has been spent so far on the $688 million project.
“It leaves a great impression on motorists,” Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said. “One of my concerns when we were designing it was that it was going to be below grade and people wouldn't get to see the skyline and people could whiz right through here on their way between Amarillo (Texas) and Fort Smith (Arkansas) and never see it.
“At that point we came up with the concept of the Oklahoma City Skydance (pedestrian) Bridge. This gives people an opportunity to leave Oklahoma City with something positive on their mind. If they've already chosen they're not going to stop here, at least they'll remember it and maybe on their next trip back they'll pull off.”
The roadway is opening to traffic about eight months ahead of schedule.
When it opened, the old Crosstown carried 50,000 vehicles daily. It was designed to carry 76,000 vehicles. The six-lane roadway now carries about 125,000 vehicles a day.
The new Crosstown is designed to handle 173,000 vehicles daily.
U.S. Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, said the new roadway will benefit Oklahoma City in many ways.
“The people that do tourism, from east to west, west to east, that will be driving down this great road ... will see the renewal and revitalization of Oklahoma City,” he said.
Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez said the roadway will relieve congestion and improve access to downtown Oklahoma City.
“The completion of this project will make it easier for people to get to work and creates a more productive business and economic environment,” he said.
Work will continue for some time on the project even after the westbound lanes are open for traffic.
The existing Crosstown will be dismantled to make way for building a downtown boulevard. It will take about eight months to take down the elevated roadway. The Transportation Department plans to salvage existing steel beams and offer them to counties across the state.
Work also has to be finished on the I-44 junction on the west side, as well as the I-35 and I-235 junctions on the east side of the corridor. It will take about two years to complete that work.
After the elevated Crosstown is dismantled, work will start on a six-lane downtown boulevard, estimated to cost about $80 million. When the downtown route is built, other exits and entrances will be added to the Crosstown.
“We're very fortunate to be able to design a brand new street to go right through the heart of downtown and we intend to make the most of it,” Cornett said.
“We intend to make it the grandest street this generation has ever seen.”