Oklahoma DOT Improves Downtown Connectivity with $80M Oklahoma City Boulevard
A new $80 million, 4-mile Oklahoma City Boulevard, with interchanges connecting to the relocated Interstate-40 Crosstown Corridor in downtown Oklahoma City, will improve access to the downtown central business district.
"The new boulevard reconnects downtown to multiple interstates," says Brian Taylor, Oklahoma Department of Transportation Division 4 Engineer. "With a project of this size, there are a lot of challenges."
The new $680 million, ground level, 4.5-mile, 10-lane I-40 Crosstown runs seven blocks south of the former elevated alignment. It is one of the largest projects in the department's history, since the completion of the interstate system in the 1970s. ODOT decided to relocate the 1960s-era expressway, because the bridge structure was deteriorating. Plans for the I-40 Crosstown began in 1995, construction started in 2005, and it opened to traffic in 2012.
"The old Crosstown was getting to the point that we were not comfortable with it anymore," Taylor says. "We had to move traffic off of it, and there was not a good way to reconstruct it in place and maintain traffic. It was a long structure and fracture critical in places."
The department had spent a significant amount of time and effort trying to maintain the bridge and traffic before replacing the road. During decommissioning, more than 2,000 bridge beams were removed and repurposed, some into buildings and some into county bridges.
While the new crosstown improved safety and capacity, it resulted in fewer exits serving the downtown area. This boulevard project helps to improve access.
The new four-lane Oklahoma City Boulevard is being built in the old I-40 alignment and will run from the I-40/I-235 interchange on the east to I-40 near Pennsylvania Avenue on the west. It will be a low-speed city street, with on-street parking, 15-foot-wide sidewalks and bicycle paths.
Oklahoma City will redevelop most of that old alignment as part of the MAPS 3 capital improvement program, funded by a limited-term, 1-cent sales tax. Projects include a new $287 million convention center and a $132 million, 70-acre public park area.
In the Oklahoma Transportation Commission's 2016-2023 plan, two more segments of the I-40 alignment will be constructed, an $8.5 million rail rehabilitation and a $41 million reconstruction of the Choctaw Road Interchange, both scheduled for 2017.
MacArthur Associated Consultants of Oklahoma City, designed the Oklahoma City Boulevard. CEC Infrastructure Solutions and Leidos, both of Oklahoma City, designed the east and west end connection projects.
Design and construction of the new boulevard requires coordination with the city, the BNSF Railway, the Federal Highway Administration and other stakeholders, including the OKC Thunder NBA basketball team, whose arena is located along the alignment. There has been extensive public participation.
"There's a massive amount of coordination taking place," Taylor says.
The boulevard is being built in five phases.
Sherwood Construction of Catoosa is building a portion of the east connection to the interstate, under a $26.4 million contract. Work began in February 2014 and includes new ramps and bridges to connect Oklahoma City Boulevard to I-40/I-235/I-35 South (Dallas junction). It is almost complete.
Allen Contracting of Oklahoma City began building the remaining $40.6 million east connection of the Oklahoma City Crosstown Boulevard in March of 2015. The contract is a 500-day, phased project including a new interstate off ramp linking I-35 to the OKC Crosstown Boulevard, EK Gaylord and a two-phase railroad bridge.
"This is the project that ties it all together," says Jeff Allen, President and Owner of Allen Contracting. "It's a complex project."
Allen Contracting also built the $9 million west connection, which completed in December 2013. It used some of the old bridges, which Allen Contracting repaired, yet gives the appearance of a city street.
ODOT plans to let an Oklahoma City Boulevard project in January 2016 from Gaylord to Walker, an estimated $7 million job expected to wrap up in spring 2017. The final, estimated $15 million, phase will run from Walker to Klein and take about one and a half years to construct.
The geometrical configuration of the east interchange required braided ramps, including a curved steel beam ramp. Paul Green, Director of Operations for ODOT, reports the department frequently uses this type of structure in metropolitan areas with major interchanges.
"It's not only difficult to fabricate; it's difficult to construct, because you are dealing with horizontal and vertical alignment," Green says. "And the bridge is super elevated. In those locations where those come together, we have multiple bridges coming together with multiple cross loads."
The rest of the bridges are a combination of precast concrete and steel beams, depending on the span width. The west connection featured some post-tensioned bridges.
Maintaining traffic, including on the acceleration and deceleration lanes and ramps also posed challenges. Allen Contracting set the beams over the interstate, while keeping the road open. The new ramp runs through the interchange.
"Major interchanges with interstate-to-interstate connections are very difficult to keep flowing, and it leads to congestion," Green says.
During construction, ODOT and construction crews have found oil wells and artifacts from the city's boomtown days. In some places, ODOT conducted industrial clean ups. The electrical switching station that powers downtown was located in the middle of the alignment. The department arranged for its relocation with the utility company.
On the Allen Contracting portion of the project, coordination with the railroad has proven key. The 27 trains running daily had to keep operating as Allen Contracting builds additional tracks and bridges. Work has to stop when the trains pass, reducing production. Allen Contracting has followed stringent safety rules and maintained a safe environment. Crews installed sheet piling to hold the track up while building retaining walls that will allow crews to move the train to a new temporary location, complete the new track and then will move the train traffic back in place.
Allen Contracting also finished the segment of road in front of the basketball arena ahead of schedule while maintaining access for concerts and deliveries. That portion of the work included boring under the railroad track for storm water drainage, sewer and water lines. In some places, it involved excavating down 25 feet in close proximity to the live train tracks.
"We like doing these jobs," Allen says. "It's going well, and we are on track to complete the final portion ahead of schedule."