Drivers face confusion as boulevard opens without signage, traffic lights
Travelers hitting the new Oklahoma City Boulevard on Tuesday encountered a new major corridor with no working traffic lights and limited views at a two-way crossing at Walker Avenue.
By noon, changes already were underway, but drivers will face another month before all of the signs and traffic signals for safe travel will be completed.
State, city and civic leaders led by Gov. Kevin Stitt and Mayor David Holt gathered in 101-degree heat Monday to cut the ribbon and open the boulevard to traffic after years of planning and construction.
But during the first morning rush hour on Tuesday, street signs were missing and stop signs were used for four-way stops except at Walker Avenue, where drivers in the inside lanes, with cars in adjoining lanes, had limited or no view of crossing traffic.
Meanwhile, pedestrians were struggling to cross the boulevard between Western and Shartel avenues.
Some who drove the boulevard commented on social media that the lack of signage and traffic lights posed a danger to drivers.
“Yes, it was frightening during 8 a.m. traffic,” said Taylor Ketchum. “No one knew what to do.”
Calls by The Oklahoman to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation on Tuesday were not returned. But Mayor David Holt was quick to respond, noting the timing of the opening was driven by the state. The road is set to be turned over to the city once completed.
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“The Oklahoma Department of Transportation has been pressuring us to schedule the ceremony so they could open it,” Holt said. “They would have had the ceremony weeks ago if we could have found a date that works. I defer to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation as to the readiness of the road.”
Kristy Yager, head of the city’s communication office, said “safety is ODOT and the city’s No. 1 priority.”
“The construction work on the street was complete and could be opened to traffic,” Yager said. “ODOT contractors are able to finish the rest of the work (streetlights, signals and signage) without much disruption to traffic.”
Yager added the temporary traffic controls that were installed were believed to be adequate. She said that despite a ribbon cutting ceremony for the boulevard covered by all local media, ODOT and the city did not anticipate “traffic concerns” that developed during Tuesday morning rush hour.
“Crews responded quickly with additional signage at several of the new intersections on the boulevard,” Yager said. “ODOT and the city are also prepared to respond further if additional concerns are identified.”
Holt responded quickly to concerns on social media and said a police officer was being dispatched to look into traffic hazards at Walker Avenue where the intersection was changed to a four-way stop shortly before noon.
Hours later, a city bus sped through the intersection on Walker apparently unaware of the change and not seeing the new stop signs. Confusion also continued at Klein Avenue, the entrance to Farmers Market, where drivers were not stopping for traffic flowing on the boulevard.
“The ODOT construction establishes Klein the same as Lee and Shartel with stops in the north and south directions,” said Eric Wenger, director of Oklahoma City’s public works. “The design accommodates the city being able to install traffic signals in the future as development increases in each of those areas. This was one of the specific outcomes from the public meetings that we held and the work that public works and planning did together several years ago.”
By late Tuesday, Holt was happy with the response he saw after problems were reported with the boulevard.
“I wish we had all known the state of completion but it is what it is now,” Holt said. “And it feels like the city and ODOT partnered today to ensure a high level of safety until we get the traffic lights installed.”