Friends for a Better Boulevard, an advocacy group formed to promote a pedestrian and bicycle friendly downtown boulevard, is asking the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration to extend a public comment period on the project. The comment period ended Tuesday.
Bob Kemper, the group’s founder, said extending the two-week review will allow for more public discussion and scrutiny of the boulevard designs and better ensure the best project moves forward. State highway engineers also hosted an “open house” at the Cox Convention Center on May 7, two hours before a Thunder play-off game started across the street at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“The time was just too short,” Kemper said. While Kemper doesn’t believe there was any malicious intent since there was no way to know that a playoff game would be scheduled the same night, “everyone agrees the comment period was too short.”
Developers and real estate professionals have told The Oklahoman the boulevard’s design can either boost or kill development chances for a large blighted area between the new roadway, Interstate 40, Western and Walker Avenues known as part of Core to Shore.
The area includes a collection of decades-old buildings deemed by developers to be architecturally significant.
Kemper said as of Tuesday he had not received a response to the extension request letters sent to the agencies last week. Transportation officials declined comment to The Oklahoman about the request, saying it had not yet been received.
In prior interviews, they indicated they believed the review process was sufficient.
“Our public comment periods are typically 14 days, as approved by the Federal Highway Administration,” state Transportation Department spokesman Cole Hackett said.
Kemper said his organization has encouraged people who support restoring the street grid and not building a boulevard to make that preference clear to the state and city. The organization itself is advocating changes to Option C, the design scored highest by highway engineers.
Proposed changes include an intersection at Lee Avenue; not closing Exchange Avenue, which connects downtown to the Stockyards; and narrowing the seven-lane width of the road between downtown and the future MAPS 3 Core to Shore Park.
Kemper noted the organization has high hopes its efforts will continue to influence the boulevard design, which two years ago was set to be built as an elevated bypass between Western and Walker Avenues.
“Through citizen support, Friends for a Better Boulevard has forced a proper environmental review of this massive project,” Kemper said.
“We have already positively influenced the ‘C’ proposal by securing preliminary proposed solutions to the early ‘Compress Street’ (connection) proposal in Bricktown to the ‘Oklahoma Avenue’ alternative, removing 3,200 feet of concrete bridge structure from Western to Dewey, an improved resolution to Western/Classen merging of streets, and more emphasis on sidewalks, bike lanes, landscaping, transit, and traditional boulevard design.”