The westbound section of the new Interstate 40 Crosstown is set to open by the end of the month, bringing to a close a massive construction project expected to serve motorists well into the future.
State and city leaders have been planning the nearly $700 million highway — located about five blocks south of the old one — since the 1990s.
Construction began in 2005.
Terri Angier, chief spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, said the project stretching from I-44 to I-35 is one of “national significance.”
As for a firm opening date, she said several factors are making it difficult to pin down an exact day.
“We'll know, hopefully Tuesday or Wednesday for sure about a date,” Angier said. “We're going to see how Monday goes, with the weather, so we'll know then for sure.”
The old I-40, an elevated dinosaur by highway standards, was built in the mid-1960s.
It also has been described as one of the worst bridges in the country, earning it an inspection every six months instead of every two years.
State officials say the old Crosstown was in such poor condition that weight-restricted trucks were banned from using it.
The upkeep and inspections for the elevated roadway were costing the Transportation Department about $1 million annually.
Even with the ban on weight-restricted trucks, the old Crosstown routinely handled nearly twice as many vehicles as it was designed to support.
The old I-40 was designed to carry roughly 76,000 vehicles daily, while the new one is expected to be able to handle 173,000.
In November 1989, a crack was discovered in one of the old Crosstown's pier beams, attracting national attention to the bridge.
After the crack was discovered, major traffic delays followed as crews were sent in to make emergency repairs.
“That really crippled downtown Oklahoma City traffic for about a day,” Angier said. “From that point on, the Federal Highway Administration ... and ODOT began to really look at the process of how we were going to get our arms around the funding to do something like this.”
In 1997, roughly $100 million in federal highway money was earmarked by Congress to help jump-start the I-40 project after an out-of-state senator drew attention to the deteriorating bridge.
“This Crosstown project is a project of huge magnitude,” Angier said. “It's not just a highway project for downtown Oklahoma City. ... This connects the East Coast to the West Coast. ... It's a really significant location.”
Even though major progress has been made in the new Crosstown project, Angier warned that traffic problems — minimal at this point — are likely to increase over the next two years.
She said the project has been unfolding far away from the old Crosstown, pretty much “out of everybody's way.”
“It's been built on the side and, at times, nobody even knew it (construction) was going on. ... It's been a very convenient project,” she said. “But we said we'd be out of your way for a while and then we'll be in your way for two years.
“Well, that time has come. ... There is no other way but impacting some of that traffic.”
Parts of the crumbling, old I-40 will be used on county bridges throughout the state, officials said.
The state has roughly 4,300 structurally deficient county bridges. The massive recycling project is expected to help replace as many as 300 of them.
Evans said the Transportation Department has never an opportunity to recycle on such a large scale before.
“We think that's a great deal for the taxpayers,” Deputy Transportation Department Director Gary Evans said last month. “It's a great deal to retask those beams. It shows how state government and county government can work together.”
Staff Writer Michael McNutt