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If a portion of a new boulevard in Downtown Oklahoma City is elevated on its west end, nearby property owners and interested parties believe it will doom the area to a future filled with blight, pigeons and "hobos."
Members of Friends for a Better Boulevard, a citizen’s group, are concerned with businesses in the area on the west side of Downtown that may see their stretch of boulevard elevated to connect with Interstate 40. Several members attended the Oklahoma City Council meeting July 31 to voice their concerns that the elevated roadway would continue a disconnect they felt would eventually go away thanks to the relocated I-40 opening earlier this year.
Eric Wenger, public works director for the city, said the elevated portions on the east and west ends of the $80 million boulevard have been in the works for nearly a decade. He cited a 2002 record of decision from the Federal Highway Administration that recommended a six-lane, at-grade boulevard from the Interstate 235 interchange on the east to west of Walker Avenue. From Walker Avenue to Western Avenue, the I-40 bridge would be rehabilitated as a divided boulevard.
“The concept of portions of the boulevard being elevated were part of that record of decision in 2002,” he said. “But subject to a lot of downtown development, we are seeing a lot of changes.”
Nothing is set in stone, and one of the first changes to the record of decision is a push by the city to have the boulevard trimmed down to four lanes divided by a median.
“We haven’t made any final decisions,” Wenger said.
The ideal plan that the city will present to Oklahoma Department of Transportation will be for four lanes with traffic traveling at 20-30 miles per hour. On both sides of the boulevard in the at-grade portions, there would be 15-foot-wide sidewalks.
Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid asked Wenger if the boulevard could be made at-grade on its west end. Wenger said several options are under consideration, even including a roundabout in the bridge section of the boulevard near Western, although he said that option seemed unlikely.
One suggestion by Ward 6 Councilwoman Meg Salyer was for the city to hire a traffic engineer to look at other options for the west end of the boulevard. That decision would be at the council’s discretion.
As it sits, the plan calls for five phases in the
boulevard construction process. It includes the west section that is under design and
set to go to bid this winter. It would include rehabilitating the old I-40
bridges from Pennsylvania Avenue to Klein Avenue and landscaping.
Several options are considered for the bridge section, and it is set to be bid in spring 2013. The core section, with about 9.5 blocks at-grade with multiple new intersections from Lee Avenue to E.K. Gaylord, also is set to be bid next spring. The railroad section and E.K. Gaylord sections on the east are both set for bid next spring.
The project is set to begin construction in January 2013, and be completed sometime in 2014.
City Planning Director Russell Claus said options will be considered for the west end of the boulevard, but the area is not in close enough proximity to the core of Downtown to likely spur residential and retail use like what has been seen in Bricktown and MidTown. But with buildings such as the Farmer’s Public Market, Claus said the area is not necessarily doomed to a gloomy future.
“There will definitely be a development response over there as a result of that Western exchange,” he said. “But I don’t think it will be the same style of urban development that we’re seeing in the other areas.”