Oklahoma City Long awaited change is finally coming in a big way to Interstate 44 in Tulsa.
The $340 million I-44 project between Riverside Drive and Yale Avenue officially entered its construction phase Monday with the Oklahoma Transportation Commission's approval of a $42 million contract for a massive underground drainage project.
Sherwood Construction Co., Inc., of Catoosa, was awarded what Oklahoma Department of Transportation Director Gary Ridley called the single most-expensive project ever put up for bid by the department.
It will involve construction of a 1.25-mile long concrete drainage structure 30 feet underground in the Perryman Ditch area on the north side of I-44 from Riverside Drive to just west of Yorktown Avenue.
Transportation officials say the drainage structure is a critical piece in their plan to rebuild I-44 through Tulsa by the end of 2012. Work on the drainage project is expected to begin early next year and could be completed within 24 months.
"It is definitely a landmark day," District 8 Transportation Commissioner Guy Berry said.
It's been a long time since anyone had anything good to say about the Riverside-to-Yale link of I-44. The highway was built before President Eisenhower signed the law creating America's interstate highway system.
Ridley described the 3 1/2-mile section as a "worn-out system" that the department has wanted to improve for years.
Berry was even tougher.
"This is definitely one of the worst stretches of interstate highway in America," Berry, who represents Tulsa and parts of northeast Oklahoma, said. "Quite frankly, it may well be the worst stretch."
Designed for 55,000 vehicles a day, the highway averages 90,000 vehicles a day.
"It's very overtaxed, very dangerous, and it runs right through the heart of Tulsa," Berry said.
While safety and convenience will be the focus, Berry said the project will feature a lot of beautification work, including landscaping and decorated sound walls.
"This just isn't about adding a couple of lanes," he said. "This is ripping everything out and starting all over."
Ridley asked motorists to be patient as construction gets under way, saying the drainage system that will flow into the Arkansas River will be only the first of several projects.
The overall project includes expanding traffic lanes between Riverside Drive and Yale Avenue from four to six lanes and improving on and off ramps at the Harvard, Lewis, Peoria and Riverside intersections.
The second construction phase, scheduled for bid in mid-2009, will be in the area of Harvard Avenue. It will be followed by the Riverside/Peoria corridor, scheduled for early 2010, and the Lewis Avenue corridor, scheduled for bid in mid-2011.
Drainage work, which will include rebuilding a frontage road, will be divided into segments to minimize inconvenience to motorists, Randle White, a division engineer, said.
White said about 400,000 yards of earth will have to be excavated to install the large reinforced concrete drainage box, which will require about 5.7 million pounds of steel and 34,000 cubic yards of concrete.
Sherwood Construction's bid of $42,395,254.70 was about $2.5 million under the department's estimate and about $3.5 million less than Becco Contractors, Inc. bid.