Price tag on relocation project increases by $114 million

Sunday, December 21st 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Neighborhood enhancements to an Interstate 40 relocation project have increased the project's price tag by $114 million to $350 million.

State transportation officials say the design improvements helped avert lawsuits and cut down on the number of properties that would be condemned when the highway moves several blocks south and a boulevard replaces the current interstate.

"We acquired all the residential properties without having to go to condemnation," project engineer John Bowman said. "We relocated all of them. It's a great accomplishment. And it's quite surprising."

Bowman said the Oklahoma Department of Transportation has acquired 150 of 168 properties needed for the relocation. The only two pending condemnation cases involve commercial properties that have an unclear title and partial ownership by a state employee.

About $12 million of the increase will pay for roadway enhancements promised to civic leaders to address criticism that the new highway runs through the predominantly Hispanic Riverside neighborhood, Bowman said.

The plan includes retaining walls to complement the neighborhood, a park, a pedestrian bridge and a boulevard that will follow the path of the existing highway.

Changes in the junctions with Interstate 35 and Interstate 44 also bumped up the cost.

Construction is expected to begin this spring on a highway bridge that will allow access between the North Canadian River and the Bricktown Canal.

Railroad clearance may begin soon, pending approval of $30 million in federal funding.

With the $30 million, overall federal funding for the project totals $142 million, leaving it short by more than $200 million.

The project received the largest earmarked appropriation -- $103.7 million -- as part of the 1998 six-year Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, commonly referred to as the TEA-21 bill.

State transportation officials are hoping to get the remaining $200 million as part of the next six-year transit authorization,Safe and Flexible Transportation Efficiency Act.

With that money, Bowman said substantial work on the highway could begin in 2005.

Anthony McDermid, an architect consulting with the state improvements to the surrounding neighborhood, said the state and city will realize the benefits from the extra spending decades after the highway is completed.

"We're trying to go above and beyond what is now the standard," McDermid said. "And unless the enhancements are considered very early in the planning, there isn't money to do it."