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Oklahoma City Council approves compromise plan for downtown boulevard

The Oklahoma City Council voted 7-2 to approve a plan that would send the boulevard over a combined Classen-Western road via bridge. Several residents and at least one city councilman asked the city to continue studying options before approving plan.
BY ZEKE CAMPFIELD Modified: January 8, 2013 at 8:31 pm •  Published: January 8, 2013

Pushback against a revised plan for a grand boulevard in downtown Oklahoma City failed to attract a majority of the city council Tuesday.

Council members instead lauded unprecedented public involvement in developing the project and voted to send the boulevard recommendation on to designers with the state.

“This has been a great exchange in reference to what I would consider probably the beginning of new politics and new policymaking for something of this magnitude,” Councilman Skip Kelly said.

“The true art of policymaking … is compromise.”

The basic outline of the proposed boulevard remains the same as was initially proposed more than a decade ago, but the revision approved Tuesday scales down the elevated length of roadway from about 1,100 feet to about 300 feet.

The new plan merges Western and Classen avenues into a single road, crossed together by the shorter bridge, and also removes three north-south crossings initially planned for the boulevard in the Western-Classen-Reno area.

The 2.4-mile boulevard would continue to connect to Interstate 40 at both ends, running east-west the entirety of the route but snaking south for just a few blocks at the Western-Classen-Reno area.

Compromise plan

The revisions were developed over the course of six months and with the help of an outside consultant and public input.

It marks a compromise between initial plans, which were focused on making it easier for I-40 traffic to access downtown, and public requests that the boulevard be pedestrian- and development-friendly for those who use the area.

“We're now able to make a recommendation to (the state Transportation Department) so they can proceed with a design,” said Eric Wenger, the city's public works director.

“There are still some questions in the center section that are being coordinated with MAPS 3 on how that roadway should look and be designed to encourage a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere, but those recommendations haven't yet been made by the city.”

Though ultimately a city road, the boulevard will be coordinated with the state and funded with $80 million to $85 million in federal funds.

The project completes the realignment of I-40, which opened five blocks south of its former location almost a year ago. The boulevard would lie in the highway's former footprint and would ease congestion currently experienced in the only two current highway access points, Wenger said.

“Obviously we have continued traffic congestion downtown, especially in the area of E.K. Gaylord, and the boulevard is going to help mitigate that,” he said.

Councilman's concerns

But not all members of the council were satisfied with the compromise.

Councilman Ed Shadid has been the most vocal critic and cast one of the two negative votes at Tuesday's meeting.

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