Exits Get High Roller Treatment

Sat July 24, 2004 - West Edition

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) The Oklahoma Department of Transportation moved two projects to improve highway exits to the top of its list when two American Indian tribes offered to kick in millions of dollars.

The Chickasaw Nation and the Citizen Potawatomi Nation will contribute business profits or their share of federal highway money toward revamping interstate highway exits leading to casinos.

In the Chickasaws’ case, ODOT was not aware of the need for improvements, agency spokeswoman Terri Angier said.

The Potawatomi Nation promised $4.5 million, resulting in the scheduled replacement of a bridge moving up from 2007 to 2005.

“It was a darned good incentive,” said David Streb, assistant director of ODOT.

Last year, U.S. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Moore) garnered $1 million toward a revamped Interstate 35 exit leading to the Chickasaws’ WinStar casino near Thackerville.

Cole, a Chickasaw, said he planned to obtain millions more in federal road money to rework the exit and widen it to two lanes. The project is expected to cost about $14 million, which includes the cost to rebuild one and a half miles of I-35, Streb said.

The tribe’s share of the bridge and exit project hasn’t been determined, Streb and Chickasaw spokeswoman Robyn Elliott said.

Tribal officials hope to secure federal money set aside for American Indian bridges.

The tribe will also pay to widen a mile of frontage road, Streb said.

The Citizen Potawatomi Nation pushed to get the State Highway 102 bridge over Interstate 40 east of Oklahoma City replaced.

The tribe is building an 80,000-sq.-ft. casino there.

“Their words were, even if they’re unable to get the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) funds that they think they’ll get, they will match it with their own funds,” Streb said.

The bridge over I-40, he said, is “outdated and in terrible condition.”

In addition to a new bridge, ODOT will also widen the state highway to four lanes near the casino, modernize the exits and on-ramps, and replace the nearby bridge over Duck Creek, Streb said.

Construction on the $12.5 million project will start late next year.

The tribe also pledged $3 million of a $5 million project to replace another nearby I-40 bridge. That construction will begin in late 2006.