If Tuesday evening's public meeting was any indication, most people in Oklahoma City favor a narrow roadway at ground level for as long as possible for the future downtown boulevard, and officials are listening and open to suggestions.
The state Transportation Department hosted a public meeting Tuesday in Bricktown regarding the downtown boulevard, primarily to seek comment on whether it should be six or four lanes.
But a wide variety of topics related to the boulevard were raised by officials and people in attendance, and authorities assured the attendees that their comments are being taken seriously.
“I think that's helpful, and I think it's going to be helpful for Oklahoma City to work through this,” said David Streb, the Transportation Department's director of engineering.
Four or six?
The meeting was held to satisfy a federal funding requirement if the Transportation Department and Oklahoma City want to narrow the roadway from six lanes, as planned a decade ago, to four lanes, which is now preferred by the city for most of the boulevard. The meeting's purpose was to set up a public comment period, open for the next two weeks, during which officials will accept formal written comments and suggestions about the roadway.
About 500 people attended the meeting.
Transportation Department officials will take the comments and engineering studies provided by the study to make a recommendation to federal transit authorities, who will approve or reject the plans.
Most of the people in attendance seemed to support the four-lane plan. Comments from attendees referring to a narrow roadway garnered widespread and enthusiastic applause, while those who supported a wider roadway drew applause from a much smaller contingent.
“There doesn't seem to be ... fundamental debate from Walker all the way through Bricktown,” Streb said of much of the roadway, expected to be four lanes and at ground level. “There does seem to be some fundamental debate from Walker going west on what's appropriate.”
That western section has proved particularly controversial in recent weeks because of preliminary plans to have that part of the roadway elevated, as was the road the boulevard will replace — the old Crosstown Expressway bridge.
Most of those in attendance who favored the narrower roadway also seemed to support a roadway at ground level for as long as possible, pointing to the development opportunities that could be squandered with a raised roadway.
A smaller group of people voiced support for a raised roadway to keep traffic moving.
Oklahoma City Public Works Director Eric Wenger said the city has chosen Stantec, an international consulting firm, to study options for the western section, which crosses a complicated series of intersections in an underdeveloped part of the urban core.
Wenger stressed that no decision has been made.
“We're going to look at all the options, including roundabouts (and an) at-grade (roadway),” Wenger said. “It might be a combination of the two. It might be at-grade or roundabout. It might be two roundabouts. ... The possibilities are endless.”
The Transportation Department will spend the coming weeks compiling the written comments submitted, along with any documents the city wants included, Streb said.
More public meetings will be held as the project develops, along with more required meetings to invite public comment if more major changes like roundabouts become the city's preferred option.
Streb said there's no need to rush through the process, noting the boulevard's importance for civic leaders who covet more development in the urban core.
“We made a commitment to build what we're going to build by 2014,” Streb said. “But we're going to step back and say, ‘Hey, Oklahoma City: This is your street. This is yours for the future. ... If you want to take the time to do it right, then take the time to do it right.'”