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Crews Reconstructing the Road to Downtown Oklahoma City

Mon April 03, 2006 - Midwest Edition
David Recht



Oklahoma City has experienced a rebirth over the past five years.

With the opening of the Oklahoma City Memorial in memory of the tragic bombing of the Federal Building, public and private investment in the Bricktown entertainment district, and the arrival of the New Orleans Hornets NBA basketball team for half of the 2005-2006 regular season games, downtown is quickly becoming a world class tourist destination.

Oklahoma City, in conjunction with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and the Federal Government, has broken ground on an ambitious plan to relocate Interstate 40. The current highway alignment runs on an elevated section on the southern end of downtown.

Randy Hill, president of the Oklahoma City-based engineering and urban planning firm of E.D. Hill Surveying and Engineering, believes that the project is a big plus for the city.

“The design of the relocated Interstate 40 allows for the continued use of the existing elevated highway until the new facility approximately five blocks south is complete,” said Hill. “Once completed, the existing elevated highway, which immediately adjoins the downtown central business district [CBD], will be demolished and an at-grade boulevard created to take its place.”

Because the highway is being relocated, the project can be built in phases that cause minimum traffic disruption.

Currently, the first phase of the project involves relocation of existing utilities that currently are located within the existing I-40 right of way. This is being done in conjunction with the preliminary earthwork and rough grading necessary to set the piers for the new elevated highway and construct the alignments for the access roads that will support ingress and egress to the new highway section.

Utility construction is important for several reasons.

Due to the wide right of way and existing road section that is elevated above grade, the I-40 interstate corridor has served as an ideal location for various wet and dry utilities, as is the case for many interstate highways.

Similar to many U.S. cities, the existing infrastructure that services the central business district and the neighborhoods to the immediate south of downtown are aging and undersized to meet projected development throughout the coming years.

Additionally, the demand for numerous fiber optic and other high-speed data transmission lines can be filled with the new right of way.

Therefore, current construction is limited to utility relocation and large-scale earthwork, in preparation for upcoming bridge work. According to the local Journal Record, the first phase of the project includes two interstate bridges and a railroad bridge, and a $6.8-million contract was awarded to Muskogee Bridge Company.

The contractor currently is staging utility pipe on an open parcel along the proposed I-40 right of way.

Currently, the primary activity is earthwork carried out by Cat 963C track loaders. These models provide for dependable use on roadway construction projects, with 158-hp (118 kW) net flywheel power.

The 963C features turbocharged aspiration, and, based on weight, has 273 lb./hp (124 kg/hp) and a displacement of 2.79 cu. in./hp (.045 L/hp).

The track shoe type is double grouser extreme service, and there are six track rollers on each side of the 963C.

A multi-purpose bucket width of 100.3 in. (25.5 cm) has a general purpose capacity of 3.2 cu. yd. (2.45 cu m).

Based on these specifications, the 963C is equipped to work alongside other track loaders for the preliminary earthwork for the new utility and bridge installations for the proposed I-40 alignment.

Once the new section is built, traffic control will become the most important construction and design aspect of the project, as the new highway must connect to the existing interstate on the east and western edges of the Central Business District.

Once this is complete, then I-40 can sustain its traffic load, while construction crews can start work on the demolition of the old I-40 section that runs through downtown.

The end product will have a streetscape that is inviting to tourists and local pedestrians, thus continuing an impressive pattern of economic development in Oklahoma City.

“The tree-lined boulevard will provide not only a beautiful and dramatic entrance to the downtown CBD,” said Hill, “but will greatly enhance the driver’s ability to traverse the central core of the city while allowing the relocated Interstate 40 to carry the increasingly large traffic loads. The result is a win-win for Oklahoma City and for one of the country’s most traveled interstate corridors.”

(David H. Recht owns an Irving-based civil engineering and construction firm.) CEG