Latest Phase of Oklahoma's I-235/I-44 Interchange Reconstruction Underway
The largest single highway contract ever awarded by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) is causing significant traffic challenges in the heart of Oklahoma City, but the project and upcoming phases will ultimately result in the complete transformation of a major corridor. Construction is well underway on one of the most significant phases of the ODOT's widening project along Interstate 235 and Interstate 44.
The project, with a cost of $88 million after incentives, is projected to last for three years and will have direct impact on the roughly 10,000 vehicles that travel the route each day. Recently completed resurfacing and just-launched widening phases are part of a broader highway plan that will bring I-235 to six lanes - a move designed to ease one of the worst traffic bottlenecks in Oklahoma.
I-235 is a 5.4-mile-long north-south alignment in central and north-central Oklahoma City. It connects northbound to U.S. Highway 77 to suburban Edmond and southbound at Interstate 44 on to Interstate 35 and the I-40 Crosstown Expressway near downtown. At Interstate 44, I-235 ends, but U.S. 77 continues northbound as a freeway, called the Broadway Extension. The Broadway Extension is a major freeway linking the downtown area to Edmond.
"This is the most critical interchange in the Oklahoma City area," says Terri Angier, ODOT Chief of Media and Public Relations. "Here we have multiple interstates crossing through the heart of the city, and with Edmond having grown to be one of the fasting growing suburbs not only in the state but in the country, this route is vitally important. Just south of this project is the capital area and the city center; further south is the downtown entertainment area, so this corridor is very heavily relied upon, for all kinds of traffic."
As Angier details, the I-235/I-44 interchange reconstruction project began in 2008, after the need to address issues at this interchange were identified in the 1990s.
Multi-Phased Project Will Add Traffic Capacity
Designed to be completed in seven phases, the overall project will continue into the next decade, Angier reports. Once all work is completed, the Broadway Extension and I-235 will accommodate six lanes of traffic from Edmond to I-40, eliminating a four-lane bottleneck that routinely leads to traffic jams during peak driving times. The I-235/I-44 interchange also will be modernized to make it safer and promote the smooth flow of traffic.
"The first phase of the project, which was completed in 2011 at a cost of $19.2 million, was on the Southbound U.S. 77 ramp to westbound I-44 at the northwest quadrant of the interchange," Angier explains. "The second phase was the I-44 eastbound to I-235 southbound ramp at the I-235/I-44 interchange, completed in 2013, with a cost of $10 million."
The third phase of the interchange reconstruction project, now underway, is actually two phases combined in an effort to limit the disruption to traffic over time, says Angier, adding, "This is the location that gets bottlenecked between 36th Street and the I-44 interchange. This is also the area where, when there's a huge amount of rainfall, we get flooding."
Resurfacing work began in August, with crews working nights to resurface approximately two miles of I-235 between North 36th Street and Northwest 63rd Street. This first part of the project phase was intended to improve the pavement condition in advance of the widening phase scheduled to begin in January. I-235 traffic was narrowed to one lane nightly from Monday through Friday during the majority of the resurfacing work.
The nearly $3 million contract with incentives was awarded in late spring 2016 to Haskell Lemon Construction Co, of Oklahoma City, with an expected completion date at the end of October. Angier reports, "We anticipated the resurfacing would cause more disruption, but went smoothly and was completed in less time than scheduled, finishing nearly a month early.
"And we feel that the travel adjustments motorists had to make during the resurfacing have helped prepare them for the closures and conditions to be expected during the widening project."
Innovative Methods to Be Used in Railroad Bridge Replacement
With the beginning of the new year, this third phase of the I-235/I-44 project has now shifted to the reconstruction and widening of the interchange and bridges. I-235 will be widened to six lanes from North 36th Street to just north of North 50th Street. The North 50th Street bridge over the interstate, the BNSF railroad bridge, and a smaller bridge near North 50th Street will be rebuilt. The design firm on this three-year project was Benham Design LLC, and the contract was awarded in May 2016 to Allen Contracting Inc. of Oklahoma City. When completed, the project will alleviate congestion and safety issues by providing six dedicated traffic lanes as well as auxiliary lanes that will increase merging distance, to accommodate current and future traffic.
As this part of the project progresses, Angier says multiple full weekend closures of I-235 will be necessary to demolish the existing bridges at Northwest 50 and then later to replace them. "We've worked to minimize the need for full closures, but in this phase there's really no way around them. Six, and possibly more, weekend closures will begin this summer, with the first closures at the time the BNSF bridge is demolished."
The BNSF railroad bridge replacement is perhaps the most complex and unique aspect of the overall project. Allen Contracting consulted with national bridge experts to facilitate building the railroad bridge on site and moving it into place above the interstate. The two-span through truss bridge (in which the truss components are both above and below the roadbed) will be constructed adjacent to the roadway.
Steve Jacobi, ODOT Bridge Division Engineer, provides details of the bridge replacement and a process that is being employed for the first time in Oklahoma. "The new bridge spans will be constructed near their final location, but off-site to minimize traffic disruption. Then, during two weekend closures which the contractor has been allowed, each new span will be lifted into place with Self Propelled Modular Transports (SPMT). This will be the first use of SPMTs in Oklahoma, but they have been used successfully in other urban areas where limiting closures to total traffic is critical.
"We had encouraged all the contractors who bid on this project to come up with methods that would work within project constraints. All the bidders had to go through a pre-qualification process and present their proposals.
"This method is very unique for us, but once we have this project under our belts, we may well utilize SPMTs again," Jacobi comments. He adds that there are positive safety aspects to this process, since it will not require crews to work over traffic, and the construction of the bridge components adjacent to the site allows a more controlled working environment.
Placement of the bridge spans is scheduled for 2018.
According to Angier, the remaining phases of the overall project should begin in 2019. "First up will be paving and widening from the end of this current project at 50th Street to 63rd Street, past the I-44 interchange," she reports. "This will be followed by the flyover connecting northbound I-235 to westbound I-44, and eastbound I-44 to northbound Broadway Extension. Together these will cost about $75 million. The last phase, planned for 2020, will primarily be focused on wrapping up work in the northeast quadrant, at a cost of around $25 million.
"Once all of this is complete, the U.S. 77/Broadway Extension and I-235 will be widened to six lanes for its entire length, and travelers will see a major improvement in one of the worst bottlenecks for traffic in the state."