Projected route could be only timely alternative to alleviate traffic concerns
Salesha Wilken Staff Reporter
Oklahoma Department of Transportation continues to make the State Highway 20 project a priority as part of the eight-year plan.
Recent news stories and questions prompted an informal meeting to bring clarity to the current planning process that will impact the city of Claremore.
Deputy Chief Engineer Gary Evans and Division 8 Engineer Randle White joined Claremore City Manager Jim Thomas and Public Works Director Daryl Golbek for a discussion Friday.
ODOT is revisiting an environmental study that was done in 2000 that would realign Highway 20 to the south, connecting with Highway 66 near Flint/King roads.
The expansion could include an overpass located at the intersection of Highway 20 and Highway 66 near King Road.
These plans have not been finalized and public hearings could be held next year.
The eight-year plan includes funding for a right-of-way assessment that is scheduled to occur in 2014.
“I have not seen any dates on the public meetings yet, All I can say is their goal is to have the assessments done by 2014,” Evans said.
Evans continued to explain that numerous alternative routes were reviewed in 2000 and that this route was preferred.
If this plan is not approved, then ODOT will go back to square one and the process that started in 2000 would start allover again, Evans added.
“I don’t want to go back to square one, going back takes a lot of time,” Thomas said. “The problem is not going away.”
“We look 30 years into the future when planning,” Evans said.
The current alignment would have a difficult time handling the traffic volumes that will exist at that time, according to Evans.
For this plan to be approved, ODOT would need local support including city officials and final approval from the Federal Highway Administration.
Evans stated that the proposed route would end at Highway 66 near Flint road, featuring a loop onto Highway 66.
“Let me make it clear: ODOT is not pursuing anything at this time on the east side of 66; it is not in the eight-year plan,” Evans said.
Currently, the top priority for Highway 20 is the section of the roadway on Keetonville Hill, according to Evans.
“We have historically had problems with Keetonville Hill and would like to get away from the current alignment,” Evans said.
“The problem right now is that we have a highway sitting on the side of a hill.”
A secondary issue with Keetonville Hill is the river that runs beneath it.
The project includes preliminary plans to reroute Highway 20 starting at 209th Street to build a roadway that runs perpendicular to the hill.
Once that section is completed then a bridge will be added to cross the Verdigris River.
“The bridge would be a sister bridge to the existing structure,” Evans said.
Another issue for ODOT is the growing traffic in Claremore and the railways that travel through the city.
There have been continued discussions on how to address the tracks both for ODOT and Claremore, according to Evans.
It is this concern that led to interest in an elevated track system.
White and Golbek had spoken earlier this year after public opposition to the elevated track was expressed.
“The city came to us and told us that the they could not support the elevated track financially or otherwise,” Evans said.
Once that discussion was moved away from the then discussion about this plan was reviewed, he added.
“Ultimately, if there is local opposition to the project then it won’t go through,” Evans said.
“I am concerned from what I have seen in downtown. Even though Claremore only has a population of 18,000, we probably serve 100,000,” Thomas said. “With the volume of traffic that is going through downtown, we need to spend some dollars to alleviate that stress.”
The $30 million that was obligated by ODOT for the elevated track will now go toward this plan, however that will only be a portion of the total cost. One thing that could impact the timing for the project is the stability of Keetonville Hill.
“The hill continues to move,” White said. “We have maintenance folks that drive the road regularly. If we find something that concerns us then we will shut down the road and fix it.”
As it stands it will likely be three to four years before the public will see any signs of road construction in the area.