Five years have passed since the Project 180 makeover of downtown streets, sidewalks and parks began, and while the work isn’t going to get done this year as first desired, enough has been completed to get a good grasp of what has and hasn’t gone according to plan.
For those who wanted a clean, uncluttered, modern approach to downtown streets and sidewalks, Project 180 is an absolute success. The early streetscape masterplan assembled by consultants for the city about a decade ago were trashed because public works officials deemed the banners, plantings and signage “too busy” and distracting for visitors.
Project 180 also is missing some improvements eyed early on during planning back in 2009. Some streets were trimmed out as the city saw some street reconstruction run over budget. Those overseeing the program now don’t even remember when Project 180 also was set to include modern new bus stops and standardized sidewalk vending machines for newspapers.
When work started five years ago, city officials insisted that a 2014 deadline had to be met as part of an implementation agreement with Devon Energy Corp., which triggered Project 180 with construction of a new 50-story headquarters. That headquarters fueled the tax increment finance district that funded Project 180.
No penalties have emerged over Project 180’s completion, now set for late 2015. But some critics have long complained the original deadline created future headaches for construction of a streetcar system set to begin construction next year. It’s widely agreed the original rushed timeline led to problems with contractors, ending up with monthslong delays in completing streets, and that those delays hurt and sometimes killed downtown businesses.
Oklahoma City engineers also learned that the Thermoplastic traditional striping used for Project 180 pedestrian crossings were no longer fit for concrete streets. The crumbling paint can be seen at every intersection and will soon be replaced with a hopefully more durable multi-polymer paint. City Engineer Eric Wenger is looking at the crossings being redone soon and blames the bad paint jobs on a decision by the vendors to cut costs by using less petroleum in their paint.
Overall, complaints about Project 180 inconveniences have died down as engineers have altered how they schedule construction. Downtown regulars have become experts at navigating the detours. The Project 180 makeover of the Myriad Gardens is a big success with people packing the park on a daily basis. Less life is seen at the rebuilt Bicentennial Park in front of the Civic Center Music Hall.
A few unknowns remain, most notably the reconstruction of E.K. Gaylord Boulevard, which is tied into the conversion of the Santa Fe Station into a transit hub. Wenger said on Monday that studies are ongoing whether the street will stay six lanes or be reduced to four as recommended by consultants.
Some gaps will remain in the downtown grid; the confusing intersection of E.K. Gaylord, Dean A. McGee Avenue and Broadway will remain confusing and outdated. One- and two-block segments of streets will remain untouched along fringe areas of the Central Business District. But the conversion of streets from one-way to two-way traffic is complete.
Electric vehicle fueling stations were installed as planned. Biking lanes are in place and are being used. Downtown is not as pedestrian friendly as some early planners might have hoped, but the terrain is friendlier than it was five years ago.