Alternatives for proposed boulevard meet opposition

With hundreds in
attendance, a public meeting Dec. 3 at the Coca-Cola Bricktown Events
Center featured officials from the Oklahoma Department of
Transportation, city public works and representatives from Stantec.

The city hired Stantec in September to
carry out an evaluation of possible solutions to the complicated
traffic issues the Boulevard will face near Western, Reno and
Classen.

Out of a total of 38 original design
options, the Stantec team took what they deemed the best elements
from each, and narrowed down the selection to four options, said
Williams Ferris, senior principal at Stantec.

Option A has the boulevard passing over
Western Avenue, then Western Avenue realigning with Classen north of
the boulevard. This option would require a retaining wall along part
of the boulevard, something many businesses owners and individuals
from the area spoke out against.

Option B has the same Western-Classen
alignment, but in this option, Western passes over the boulevard.
This could create some access issues to Western for nearby
businesses, requires a larger retaining wall, and requires that
Western be raised while the boulevard is lowered.

Option C features a large traffic
signal intersection at Western and the boulevard, though it is likely
this option would cause a fair amount of queuing at the traffic
lights, Ferris said.

Option D features a three-lane traffic
roundabout. This option, while currently workable, would eventually
fail within a few years as traffic volumes increase, Ferris said.

Stantec, which said it took into
account both planning and engineering concerns and issues during the
study, is recommending the city go with option A.

While some citizens at the meeting
supported option A, several spoke out against the idea, fearing it
created a barrier between businesses and communities north and south
of the future boulevard.

“The proposal A actually does not
allow through traffic on Western, on Classen, on Shartel, on Lee. It
dead-ends California, and it does not allow 2nd Street to go
through,” said Anthony McDermid, principal of Tap Architecture,
who, among many in attendance, felt this design is an interruption of
the current grid on which city streets currently operate. “It
separates businesses on the south side of the boulevard from
potential businesses on the north side of the boulevard.
“I
understand the analysis that has gone into this has been thorough. I
appreciate the process, I just want everybody in this room to
understand that if we adopt Alternative A, there will be a tremendous
amount of disconnectivity between the north side of the boulevard and
the south side of the boulevard,” he said. “I think these
alternative options are extremely complicated. … I think for us to
take a little more time to allow a little more study, to understand
these alternatives better would be time well spent.”

Blair Humphreys, executive director of
the Institute for Quality Communities, questioned why the city and
ODOT could not request that the boulevard not be designated as a
bypass for I-40, as laid out in documents detailing the plan to the
federal government, when the plan already has been altered once by
lowering the number of lanes from six to four.

The conversation continued at the Dec.
4 City Council meeting, where Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid said the
city and Stantec should run numerous traffic simulation models to
find the best solution, which could include not building a boulevard
at all.

He said the current plan would create a
busy thoroughfare he called a “Northwest Expressway with trees.”

“If you build a Northwest Expressway
with trees, it disconnects the north side of the city from the
south,” he said.

With Reno as a thoroughfare, Shadid
said that street could move traffic, and those entering Downtown from
the east and west off the highways would be disbursed into the
Downtown grid.

“There wouldn’t be a boulevard,”
he said.

Ward Six Councilwoman Meg Salyer
disagreed with scrapping the boulevard. She said the citizens were
promised a grand boulevard as an entryway into and through Downtown.

“That’s exactly what we’re
working toward,” she said. “My concern is that if we don’t do a
boulevard and we go straight to a grid, we don’t get that grand
boulevard.”

Conceptual drawings of the proposals
are available at www.okladot.state.ok.us.

Above: Eric Wenger, public works director, discusses ‘Alternative A’ for the proposed boulevard Downtown.

Photo by Mark Hancock

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