Options for widening I-35 in OKC unveiled
Many residents got their first look at proposed designs for widening Interstate 35 in eastern Oklahoma City Tuesday night during a spirited public meeting at the Lincoln Park Golf Course Event Center.
One of the proposals called for removing many homes and businesses, which sparked some lively comments.
"I would just ask for you all to have some sense of humanity when you pick this," said one area homeowner, who declined to give her name. "That is a historical neighborhood built solely by a black man's hands with no money from any white bank or business.... That whole neighborhood has a significance and I want you never to forget it and worry about a frickin' golf course when you are demolishing history."
Presented for public comment were four alternative proposals for dealing with a busy segment of I-35 that stretches from I-40 to I-44 in the eastern part of the city.
The 4.5-mile segment is currently four lanes wide, which creates a bottleneck in what is otherwise a 22-mile stretch of six-lane interstate that goes all the way from Norman through Edmond, state transportation officials said.
One of the biggest questions raised by residents was when right-of-way acquisition and construction is likely to begin.
Division engineer Trenton January said he doesn't have a definite answer, but the project is not in the state's eight-year construction work plan, so no construction is likely to happen for at least eight years unless the state unexpectedly finds extra money.
January said his best guess would be that it will be 10 to 12 years before the state begins acquiring property for the project, if such acquisition is necessary.
Several other questions focused on what the project's design would look like and how that would impact area homes and businesses.
Employees of the engineering firm Poe & Associates presented four designs that ranged in scope from doing nothing to greatly widening the I-35 corridor and building two-way frontage roads on either side of the interstate.
Doing nothing is really not a viable alternative because the current bottleneck creates a safety hazard, January said.
From 2009 through 2019, there were 2,292 collisions on that 4.5-miles stretch of I-35 and its ramps that resulted in eight fatality collisions and 968 injuries, officials said. There were an additional 240 collisions on frontage roads in the area that resulted in 75 injuries and one fatality collision.
The traffic volume in the area is about 77,000 vehicles a day, but that is expected to grow to about 110,000 vehicles a day by 2040, so the problem will only get worse if nothing is done, officials said.
January said the other least favored option of transportation officials would be one that would require massively widening the corridor to accommodate two-way frontage traffic as well as widening the interstate.
That would require the department to acquire a lot of property from nearby residents and businesses, which is not only disruptive but extremely costly, he said.
January said the two designs that transportation officials would likely find most favorable were similar in that both would have three lanes of interstate in each direction and one-way frontage roads on either side of the highway. In the department's presentation, these designs were labeled Alternative No.2 and Alternative No. 3.
A significant difference between the two alternatives is that Alternative 3 would be built within the existing highway corridor's footprint, with a few exceptions, while Alternative 2 would expand the footprint some to improve sight lines for motorists.
Each of the changes would result in some changes in access points along the interstate.
A Poe & Associates official said there are a number of golf courses, public parks and some historic properties in the area that will have to be taken into consideration in selecting a design. The Federal Highway Administration has regulations that call for rejection of designs that would require disturbing such properties if a less disruptive alternative is available.
That comment didn't resonate will with the resident worried about historic neighborhoods.
"If you're going to create a two-lane access road and add two more lanes to the highway, you tell me how you accomplish that without demolishing the houses on west side of Grand Boulevard," the woman said.
She complained that highway officials destroyed the beauty of Grand Boulevard years ago when they split the community with I-35.
"It is emotional for me to sit here and now know you're going to further demolish it to accomplish urban sprawl," she said.
"You're either going to tear off the west side of Grand Boulevard or you're going to incur upon Edwards Park, a hospital — what once was a hospital, a church and a nursing home and you don't care," she said. "Don't talk about a golf course. I want to know what timeline you have and how you're going to treat those of us who own homes there."
"We absolutely care about the effects it's going to have on your neighborhood and your business and everybody up and down I-35," responded Craig Moody of Poe & Associates."This is not something that's fly-by-night. We've been working on this a long time."
Residents raised numerous other concerns, including the proposed elimination of access ramps on the south side of 10th Street, increased traffic on frontage roads, the potential blocking of business access, and noise and air pollution.