Christmas has come early for Green Country drivers. After more than a year of detours, I-244 traffic crossing the Arkansas River is back to normal—for now.
The state-of-the-art bridge opened up to drivers Wednesday evening.
The new stretch of road will make getting around Tulsa much easier for drivers, but more detours are in store.
Drivers didn't skip a beat as traffic shifted from the detour route to the new three-lane, westbound bridge that crosses the Arkansas River.
"The main goal right now is to get traffic put on to the bridge, so we don't interfere with traffic anymore," said Oklahoma Department of Transportation Construction Engineer Mark Zishka.
Building of the bridge has caused bottlenecks since April 2011, as both east and westbound traffic was squeezed onto a smaller, older bridge right beside it.
Zishka said the new bridge is one of Oklahoma's most unique. It's the state's only double-decker bridge.
The top deck is for vehicles and down below is a bridge for foot traffic and space for two commuter rails.
"That's just for future rail lines, for future commuter rails within the city, and there's also proposed talks of a rail between Oklahoma City and Tulsa," Zishka said.
The lower deck won't be finished for six months or so, but even then it won't be open to the public.
That's because ODOT is already preparing for the reconstruction process to begin on the eastbound bridge. When that project begins in May or June, all the traffic will move onto the new bridge.
Zishka said building the second bridge shouldn't take as long.
But for the next few days, Ziskha said it's still a construction zone and asks drivers to be aware.
"There's a lot of things going on, traffic's being shifted back and forth, so you really need to pay attention when you're coming through the work zone," he said.
For the next few days, some of the ramps tied to the new bridge will remain closed, but will hopefully open by Friday.
Crews expect to have all the concrete barriers on the eastbound bridge removed by Thursday morning.