Oklahoma DOT Completes Phase 3 of SH-74 Widening Project Through Oklahoma City
A long needed and much anticipated road improvement in Oklahoma City is one step closer to completion, with the opening this summer of the third phase of the project to widen State Highway 74 (SH-74) along its route through a rapidly-growing section of the city. With the fourth and final phase of the project now scheduled to be awarded in the fall of 2017, the conversion of SH-74 - the last stretch of two-lane metro area highway in the state - is quickly progressing.
Known as Portland Avenue along its route through the city, SH-74 is a heavily travelled corridor, and the traffic demands are only increasing, at a swift pace. The $34 million Phase 3 of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) project involved the reconstruction of SH-74 from a two-lane road to a four-lane divided highway with service roads, from north of Memorial Road to north of NW 164th Street. This phase encompassed several components, including reconstruction of SH-74/NW 150th Street interchange featuring a new bridge over NW 150th Street, ramps to and from northbound and southbound SH-74 and 150th, and one-way service roads on both sides to maintain access for businesses along the route and to accommodate future growth in the area.
The upcoming Phase 4 will widen the highway northward from the end of Phase 3 for approximately 2.5 miles to NW 206th Street (also called Covell Road). Together, the completed and scheduled projects represent an approximately $136 million investment in improvements to SH-74.
When Phase 4 is completed, SH-74 will have four or more lanes from Memorial Road to Waterloo Road, along a busy corridor with retail and professional development to the south and heavy residential areas to the north. The northern portion of the corridor serves two of the fastest-growing school districts in the state - it cuts directly through the Deer Creek Public School District and abuts portions of the western-most edge of the Edmond Public School District. Much of this residential area commutes into the Oklahoma City metropolitan area for jobs, thus accounting for a large part of the significant growth in average daily usage along the corridor. The southern end of the corridor now sees 27,000 average daily traffic counts (per 2014 numbers).
Oklahoma State Highway 74 is a north-south route which runs through central Oklahoma. Its origins date back to the 1920s; the road later expanded northward and southward to become a major route connecting Oklahoma City to rural parts of the state.
In 2006, SH-74 was identified as a corridor with multiple needs. The ever-growing demand for additional traffic capacity, coupled with the concerns and complaints of the residents who travelled the route, made widening the corridor from two to four lanes one of ODOT's most vital projects. When Phase 1 of the project began in 1997, there was some controversy as to why the widening project began at the north end of the corridor, where the daily traffic counts were roughly a third of the counts along the southern section. However, there was solid reasoning behind the decision, says ODOT Division 4 Engineer Brian Taylor.
"This projects consists of four phases," Taylor explains. "Two projects were previously completed at the north end of the corridor, where there was an immediate need due to the conditions of the bridges between Covell and Coffee Creek. Phase 1 was completed in 2006, and Phase 2 in 2008, representing approximately $35 million in improvements."
While the first two phases were constructed at a steady pace, after their completion there was a delay in further SH-74 phases until 2008, as highway funding was diverted to the new Interstate 40 Crosstown Corridor. That $680 million project, one of the largest in ODOT's history, saw I-40 through Oklahoma City relocated (because the bridge structure of the existing expressway was deteriorating) and reconfigured into a 4.5 mile, 10-lane highway.
However, ODOT completed several interim projects along the SH-74 corridor during that time, to help alleviate traffic congestion until the Phase 3 and Phase 4 projects could be funded and realized. As Taylor explains, "Traffic volumes on SH-74 were growing faster than we could obtain funding for the big phases. As one example of the interim projects we completed, in 2014 we added right turn lanes on north- and southbound SH 74 at NW 150th and NW 164th, as well as northbound at NW 178th. This greatly improved the functionality and safety of those intersections.
"Addressing some immediate needs through smaller, interim projects was just one of the things we did a little differently on this project," he continues. "Before Phase 3 got underway, we made the decision to have a pre-construction public meeting, to let local residents know what to expect during construction. This meeting helped us identify all the stakeholders, who were then kept informed on the status of the project as we proceeded with construction."
The pre-construction meeting was held this past February at one of Oklahoma City's largest churches, Taylor reports. ODOT and contractor representatives were on hand to describe the construction process and answer questions.
Phase 3 was let as an A+B (also called cost plus time bidding) project. Under this method, each submitted bid has two components: a dollar amount for contract items, and the days required to complete the project. The A+B technique, coupled with incentives for early completion built into the contract, proved to be very effective. Taylor comments, "This reduced the contract time to construct, and led to better, more comprehensive plans from the contractor."
Haskell Lemon Construction Co. of Oklahoma City, a third-generation family owned business established in 1948, was awarded the contract for Phase 3. The company has grown from a small grading and paving contractor to a diversified highway contractor specializing in complex Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration projects.
"Haskell Lemon is a highly qualified, well respected firm who brought to the table many ideas which definitely saved time," Taylor states. "For example, the frontage roads were built first, so traffic could be moved there. And, lane rentals were used during the peak-traffic times of day." (Since the contractor must "rent" a lane in order to close it, it creates a strong incentive to minimize the duration of those closures.)
Triad Design Group, Inc. of Oklahoma City is the structural engineer who serves as a consultant on Phase 3 and 4 of the SH-74 widening project. One interesting side note, as Taylor points out: "Triad has a definite personal stake in this project; many of their employees have to travel this route on a daily basis."
Phase 4, which will connect Phase 3 with the two completed sections to the north, is scheduled to be let in November 2017, Taylor reports. "It will be about a 500-calendar day project, and is estimated to have a $29 million cost. When Phase 4 is completed, it will mean a west offset alignment shifted to an east offset alignment, just south of NW 178th Street."
A Better Driving Experience
Oklahoma City drivers are already experiencing the improved traffic flow, better access, and increased safety of the improved SH-74, and the end of the project is now in sight. And, as Taylor points out, drivers on the new four-lane highway are not only getting a much-improved driving experience - they also see a strong visual illustration of the cooperation between ODOT and the city.
"The City of Oklahoma City is a partner with us on this project, and we were careful to include aesthetic considerations in our designs - such as the extensive use of form liners. We've received a lot of compliments about this, especially about the visual appeal at the entry points to the city."