WORK continues on a traffic nightmare at 71st & Garnett

Wednesday, November 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

It's come to represent the best and worst of south Tulsa. 71st Street, known for its great shopping and restaurants, as well as its traffic headaches.

And now, the widening of 71st near Garnett makes most drivers feel they're spinning their wheels. News on Six reporter Glenda Silvey says on a Tuesday night in early November, traffic is moving smoothly. But during rush hour and on weekends, this stretch of 71st really strains some nerves. Chad Brown, Broken Arrow: "It's been terrible. I mean, they've got that temporary light set up over here and they don't even have a turn lane. I mean, it's terrible."

The latest 71st street bottleneck results from the same thing as most others: the widening of 71st, from a two-lane asphalt street to six lanes of concrete. Tulsa city engineers say the two lanes obviously can't handle traffic volume estimated at 30-thousand cars a day. Albert Martinez with the City of Tulsa: "But what's happening, if you look around, Cheddar's, you've got a new Italian restaurant down there, you got Kohl's and a new target. There's just so much more business in the last nine months, it's just increased that much more traffic."

Martinez says recent problems resulted from a detour set up incorrectly, that's now been corrected, and more relief is soon to come. "We've opened up - when we're done we're going to have two lanes northbound to get on to Highway 169 and two lanes coming off, and that'll be before Thanksgiving." Cheddar's says while some customers arrive irate over the traffic wait, it hasn't hurt business, though area restaurants agree the construction has been a problem. Shawna Blakely, Cheddars Mgr: "But in the long run, we're all very optimistic about this. You know, it's going to be better for the Tulsa area and people in this area which will in fact bring more business in the future, so a small little delay is OK."

But some consider it more than a small little delay, and say they don't even want to think about the upcoming holiday shopping season. Melody Storey: "Oh it's horrible. Just for me to get from my house down the street to Petsmart up the street - it takes a half an hour. That's it, half an hour when it's not even a mile. So yes, it's horrible.”

This project is a 375-day contract, scheduled for completion in October 2002. Martinez says drivers should expect traffic to crawl especially during December, just as it always does. But within nine months, he says, this stretch will flow smoothly, so have patience.

Two high-profile Tulsa road-widening projects are a step closer to getting the funding they need. The state Transportation Commission Tuesday picked 20-projects totaling $114-million that could move forward if Congress ok's it. The list includes a widening project on highway 169 In Tulsa between 21st and I-244. It also includes widening a portion of Eye-44 between Yale and the Arkansas River.

A national coalition of highway and transportation officials is asking Congress to approve five billion dollars for roads as part of the economic stimulus package. Oklahoma’s share would be about $74-million.