Breaking Ground On the Widening Of I-44 In Tulsa

Friday, January 16th 2009, 8:00 am
By: News On 6

By Emory Bryan, The News On 6

TULSA, OK -- The final construction phase of the I-44 job begins on Monday.  The project will take four years to complete.  It will widen the stretch of the interstate between Yale and Riverside Drive.

Tulsa's I-44 is one of the most congested and dangerous stretches of highway in the area.  From Yale to Riverside, it's four lanes that are almost always overloaded.

Related story: 11/3/2008 Record Bid Awarded For I-44 Widening Project

"This is a very dangerous section of highway and we're happy to finally have the opportunity to fix it," said Oklahoma Transportation Commissioner Guy Berry.

ODOT symbolically broke ground for the final section of I-44 that's due to be widened.  It's a $360 million project.

The widening project won't even start on the road; it's going to start along the Perryman Ditch.  The channel will be taken underground, buried in a tunnel more than 30 feet down.

"This is one of the largest drainage structures we've ever built at the department.  You would be able to drive three semis side by side in this box.  It's a huge, huge box," said ODOT Director Gary Ridley.

ODOT has already moved dozens of homes to make room for the wider highway.  Businesses big and small were bulldozed.  But, Tulsa's mayor believes when the work is done, it will fuel growth in an area that's long been in decline.

Read ODOT's Construction Work Plan FY2009-FY2016

"It makes a complete change in your view of whether the community is progressing or not," said Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor.

The decades of delay in the widening project are because the money was dribbled out piecemeal. It was a $100 million Congressional earmark that filled the gap.

"When we look at these projects, we have criteria and this fit it.  This has economic development.  It's going to be good for economic development and for safety concerns that needed to be addressed, like some of the exit ramps," said Tulsa Congressman John Sullivan.

And when it's done, there will be wider exits, an access road and a much wider road with a lane on the outside.

Watch ODOT's director discuss what is next for Tulsa by clicking on the WEB EXTRA video at the right.