Will there be an overpass built over the Union Pacific to accommodate traffic on a county road north of Oologah before one is built in Claremore?
Apparently that’s what District 2 Commissioner Mike Helm has in mind, and he initiated his unlikely project this week by making application for funds through the state’s Surface Transportation Program.
Helm told the other two commissioners Monday that such an overpass “will allow drivers off U.S. 169 to access Will Rogers Birthplace without backing up traffic.” His plans would have an overpass beginning at U.S. 169 and EW 36 Road, between Oologah and Talala, cross the railroad tracks and a creek, and then lead diagonally to connect with EW 38 between Highway 169 and NS 411 Road. The birthplace and ranch is located about one mile east of the intersection of NS 411 EW 38.
This overpass would accommodate “thousands of visitors to the birthplace each month,” the one-time Owasso city council member said.
Let’s see. State highways 88 and 20 share Will Rogers Boulevard in Claremore with about 20,000 vehicles a day crossing the Burlington Northern track without the benefit of an overpass. Historic Route 66 follows Lynn Riggs Boulevard north-south through Claremore with more than 22,000 vehicles crossing the Union Pacific tracks without benefit of an overpass.
According to records at the Will Rogers Memorial the birthplace and ranch welcomes only a handful of visitors each day, and a few tour busses, but not “thousands.” And most of those come out of Claremore and don’t have to cross a railroad enroute to the birthplace.
We love our visitors, but even if there were thousands of them a month, a two-mile long overpass would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $7 to $10 million — and that would be a pretty hoity-toity neighborhood for the old Rogers home.
Furthermore, at the speed at which the State of Oklahoma funds its road building projects, the birthplace home will have succumbed to termites and old age before the first shovel of dirt is turned on the Mike Helm overpass.