Interstate 44 widening expected to conclude in early 2014
BY MICHAEL OVERALL World Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
10/31/12 at 8:22 AM
The $400 million project to widen Interstate 44 will be finished by early 2014, nearly a decade after federal funds were set aside for it, officials said Tuesday.
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe and other dignitaries toured the construction zone a few weeks after the fourth and final phase of the project began near Lewis Avenue, where a narrow underpass is the last remaining bottleneck for interstate traffic.
New entrance and exit ramps will bring the interchange up to true interstate standards for the first time because that stretch of highway was built before the creation of the interstate system in 1956.
Inhofe, who secured funds for the widening project in a 2005 federal transportation bill, remembered the original bypass opening in 1950, the same year he received his driver's license.
Despite his conservative reputation, Inhofe described himself as "a big spender" in two ways.
"No. 1," he said, "is defending America. And No. 2, infrastructure. This kind of transportation project is what the federal government is supposed to be doing."
Officials began buying properties in the right of way in September 2005 after Inhofe ushered through a long-term transportation funding bill.
Construction began in January 2009 with a 1.25-mile drainage tunnel, wide enough in places for three tractor-trailer rigs to drive through side-by-side.
Work on the highway itself began in January 2010, when a corridor near Harvard Avenue was widened to six lanes.
That was followed by the Peoria Avenue corridor in March 2011, skipping over Lewis Avenue, where the interstate still narrows to four lanes.
Now under way, the fourth phase will replace the Lewis Avenue bridge and widen this last stretch of interstate to six lanes.
The existing highway "is almost like a boulevard more than an interstate," said Gary Ridley, Oklahoma's secretary of transportation.
If not for the widening project, he said, "people would still be driving on a stretch of highway that is not only undesirable but was certainly unsafe."
Original Print Headline: I-44 work projected to finish in early 2014
Michael Overall 918-581-8383
Traffic flows through a construction zone of the Interstate 44 widening project Tuesday. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World