Most council members praised the so-called Alternative A as a good compromise between opposing sides.
The proposal calls for a 300-foot section of the future street to be elevated to avoid the complicated traffic area of Western and Reno avenues and Classen Boulevard.
The measure passed 7-2, with Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid and Ward 4 Councilman Pete White dissenting.
The boulevard is slated to be built in the old Interstate 40 crosstown right of way. Headed by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT), the $80 million project is being funded by the federal government and is part of the larger I-40 realignment project.
Disagreements surrounding it have evolved over the years. Early ideas from ODOT featured a six-lane boulevard, but that was changed to four lanes after city officials objected.
Last summer, ODOT unveiled plans for a 1,110-foot bridge, prompting criticism by some that it would recreate a barrier in the south downtown area. Amid the public outcry, the city hired a consultant, Stantec, to look at around 40 different options.
At a Dec. 3 public meeting, officials with the Arizona-based Stantec presented four options it had deemed the most viable, with Alternative A emerging as the one it recommended. However, a grassroots group called Friends for a Better Boulevard (FBB) questioned why Stantec hadn’t been allowed to consider a no-build option that returned the right of way in the disputed section back into the street grid.
FBB said such an option would disperse traffic throughout the street grid and boost economic development. The city’s Public Works Director, Eric Wenger, countered that the boulevard would alleviate traffic congestion downtown and was required under the city’s agreement with ODOT.
For and against
A resolution to declare Alternative A as the city’s preferred option came before city council on Jan. 8.
“I don’t believe we’re making a mistake,” said Ward 6 Councilwoman Meg Salyer. “It’s time to move on.”
However, Shadid said the boulevard’s design was predetermined once Stantec was told to evaluate it only as a throughway and alternate route to bypass the old crosstown expressway. He said public input had provided only an illusion of control.
Shadid said his request that Stantec look at a no-build option was ignored and that a specific purpose for the boulevard was never articulated in an official document. If ODOT failed to look at a no-build option, he argued, it might be a violation of federal procedure that could result in litigation.
Ward 1 Councilman Gary Marrs said the full construction of the boulevard was necessary to alleviate traffic if I-40 was ever shut down because of an emergency. But White said connections to and from the interstate were going to be built, anyway.
“I don’t think the question is whether or not … you support this idea. It’s not that you support a traffic solution or if you oppose it you’re against a traffic solution,” White said. “The question is: Is this the best way to handle the portion of it that’s on the ground downtown?”
Mayor Mick Cornett likened the disagreement to a conflict between urbanist and suburban schools of thought. He said it was important to find a balance between creating a walkable place in downtown and allowing most Oklahoma City residents easy access to the city’s core.
“We are going to stunt downtown development if we don’t allow this vast majority of people who live outside of downtown and the core to be able to access it,” the mayor said. “You cut off the transportation corridors and you’re really going to impact the economic development you’re trying to create. I think this decision was a great compromise.”
Although the original timeline for full completion of the boulevard was
set for 2014, that date has now been pushed back to late 2015 or early
2016, according to City Manager Jim Couch.
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