An advocacy group challenging plans to elevate a new downtown boulevard is questioning cost and schedule estimates released by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation for keeping the road at-grade with a proposed traffic roundabout.
In an interview this week with The Oklahoman, Gary Evans, state deputy highway director, explained conclusions about the feasibility of a roundabout were based on a rendering posted on a Facebook page hosted by the group Friends for a Better Boulevard.
The depth of that roundabout study may prompt some questioning as the boulevard project is presented Tuesday to the Oklahoma City Council.
“I am highly surprised by this,” Councilwoman Meg Salyer said when told of the Facebook-generated design. “It's not at all what I expected when I asked for this study.”
State highway engineers advocate rebuilding the future downtown boulevard, which will replace the old Interstate 40, with a road rebuilt as an elevated span crossing Western Avenue, Reno Avenue, Classen Boulevard, Lee Avenue and Shartel Avenue. Evans warns a roundabout might not be able to handle an estimated 94,000 vehicles a day expected to travel the boulevard in 2035.
“Our concern about a roundabout in that area would be the number of streets it would intercept and the volumes of traffic that would come in,” Evans said. “Then there is the time involved development of the idea, considering our promise to have the boulevard done by 2014.”
Critics argue the elevated design will hamper development of an area blighted decades ago by the construction of the original elevated I-40. Those concerns, and the city's eventual ownership of the boulevard, were cited by city council members who requested highway engineers look at whether a roundabout might be feasible in keeping the road at-grade.
Bob Kemper, coordinator of Friends for a Better Boulevard, questioned whether highway engineers were attempting to undermine efforts to look at design alternatives and called their released roundabout design “ludicrous.”
“There's nothing on our Facebook that even resembles that,” Kemper said. “That couldn't even be built without destruction of everything around it.”
The roundabout design released by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation shows 10 streets connecting to the proposed roundabout while the design on the Facebook page shows only five.
Kemper argues that state highway engineers did not do their homework when they reported back to the city that the proposed roundabout would cost “millions” and delay the project by years.
Evans estimated that the boulevard, when it opens, will carry 58,825 vehicles a day in and out of downtown. That figure tops one of the busiest stretches of the six-lane Northwest Expressway between Meridian and MacArthur, which carried 53,769 cars daily in 2011.
The 2035 estimate of 94,000 cars daily on the boulevard, meanwhile, would top the 92,900 daily traffic counts recorded on Interstate 44 between Broadway Extension and Western Avenue.
Kemper charges the cost estimates and traffic counts are exaggerated to undermine public and political support for altering the current bridge design.
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