By Randy Krehbiel, Tulsa World Staff Writer
Funding for a 10-mile stretch of road linking the Tulsa end of the Turner Turnpike to the L.L. Tisdale Expressway tops the legislative agenda announced Thursday by the 34 area chambers of commerce and local governments combining their lobbying activities under the OneVoice banner.
Announced at a Summit Club press conference, the list of priorities also includes continued funding for the Oklahoma State University Medical Center and other health-care related issues as well as an examination of funding for municipal government, commitment to the federal Race for the Top education grant program and worker compensation reform.
Stealing the show, however, was the afterglow of Wednesday's announcement that Oklahoma had secured a $49.5 million federal grant to replace at least one of the Interstate 244 Arkansas River bridges southwest of downtown Tulsa.
State Transportation Secretary Gary Ridley said federal officials called him Tuesday night to tell him the project was one of 50 nationally to be funded through for the $1.5 billion TIGER grant program, which is part of the federal stimulus initiative.
"They talked for about half an hour," Ridley said. "They said they thought this project was the poster child of what they were looking for — a critical need for replacing infrastructure but with the multimodal component, as well."
Ridley said the design phase of the project could be completed by the end of the year with construction bids let in early 2011.
Construction will probably take 18 to 24 months, he said.
The bridge, which will cost about $86 million, will replace the westbound I-244 span with a double-decker bridge capable of carrying four vehicular lanes, two rail lines and pedestrian and bicycle traffic. The state had already budgeted $37 million for the project. The eastbound span, expected to cost about $50 million, is also scheduled for replacement.
Although both bridges are considered safe, Oklahoma Department of Transportation officials said each scores lower for structural sufficiency than the Minnesota bridge that collapsed in 2007.
"I can tell you without hesitation that both need to be replaced," Ridley said.
The west Tulsa County road — the last phase in an outer Tulsa loop that includes part of the Creek Turnpike, U.S. 169 and completed sections of the Gilcrease Expressway — has been on city planning maps since the early 1960s.
Although it is also generally referred to as the "Gilcrease Expressway," there is a good chance that all or part of the new road — and the bridge it requires — would be paid for by tolls.
Bills working their way through the Legislature authorize the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority to conduct a toll feasibility study for the route. At the same time, Ridley said, the Department of Transportation will begin calculating the cost of a free road.
Posted on Sun, February 21, 2010