The final phase of the nearly $400 million road project is almost finished. Tens of thousands of drivers who travel along the interstate couldn't be happier.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe and other local and state dignitaries attended a special ceremony Thursday morning as construction crews are close to finishing a five-year project that is dramatically improving the Interstate 44 corridor between Riverside Drive and Yale Avenue in Tulsa.
"It is a vital route, not just for the people in Tulsa, but it's also a vital route for people traveling across the state of Oklahoma," said Oklahoma Governor, Mary Fallin.
Crews are nearing the end of the fourth and final phase of the five year project stretching from Riverside to Yale.
ODOT Executive Director, Mike Patterson, said, "This is a game changer. This has transformed this whole corridor into a more viable, safe, effective, efficient transportation system."
Since starting in 2009, a massive drainage system now stretches more than a mile underground. There are now six lanes instead of four on a mile and a half stretch of I-44. Several new bridges replace old functionally obsolete ones. And entrance and exit ramps are much better.
"It was really narrow lanes, the on and off ramps were short, and it was an adventure trying to get on and off the highway," ODOT engineer Randall White said. "It was one of the higher accident interstates we had in the state."
A dangerous curve and hill are now no longer a threat. The road was built in the 50's before the interstate system was even established. It no longer met federal standards, so many agree improvements are long overdue.
Tulsa Chamber CEO, Mike Neal, said, "It's one of the oldest sections of interstate in Oklahoma."
During construction, the road closures and detours have been tough on 80,000 drivers each day, but traffic will now flow more efficiently.
"Making a road or a bridge is kind of like making sausage, it's not always pretty in the process, but in the end you get a good product," said Fallin.
The Lewis Bridge over I-44 should open for drivers sometime this summer.
Construction crews also still have some retaining wall and frontage road work to do before the entire project is finished.