Next year will mark the 25th anniversary of the bombing that killed 168 people at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
To honor the victims, the Tulsa World is working with the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. For the next 168 days leading to the April 19 anniversary, the Tulsa World will recognize on page A2 those who died and the survivors whose lives were changed forever.
A graphic representation of two trees — the original 1995 Survivor Tree, surrounded by the 2020 Survivor Tree — will run each day with each tribute as a symbol of strength, growth and resilience following the bombing.
Backers of a project to renovate the Greenwood Cultural Center and build an adjacent museum are hoping interest in the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre sparked by the HBO series “Watchmen” will boost fundraising.
Last week the Tulsa Community Foundation launched a GoFundMe account called ”Greenwood Rising: Rebuild THE Black Wall Street” in an effort to reach small donors. The account has a modest $50,000 goal, although project manager Phil Armstrong said he really doesn’t know what to expect.
“We talked about where to set the goal,” Armstrong said. “Should it be a $1 million? $2 million? We thought that might cause people to think it was only for big donors. So we decided to try $50,000 and see what happens.”
So far there hasn’t been much activity on the account. Just over $1,000 has been donated to the account since the campaign launched Tuesday. Armstrong said the idea is to reach people who can give only a few dollars or a few hundred dollars.
“That way they can say they participated,” he said.
Armstrong said the GoFundMe initiative was sparked by the “Watchmen” series, which is set in an “alternate reality” Tulsa and opens with the race massacre. That ignited international interest in the event.
“Social media lit up,” Armstrong said. “We’ve been getting requests from all over the country.”
Plans call for renovation of the Greenwood Cultural Center and construction of a museum to be called Greenwood Rising, plus a trail from Vernon AME Church, across Greenwood Avenue from the cultural center, to John Hope Franklin Park about three blocks away.
Armstrong said the project has financial commitments totaling $18 million, including $5.3 million from the city, but the cost is now estimated at $30 million. That’s up from $24 million a few months ago.
The cost has gone up, Armstrong said, because of public input about what the project should include.
The Greenwood Cultural Center renovations include moving the main entrance from the south to the north side and opening a driveway for access. It also involves upgrades to the interior to make it more versatile, Armstrong said.
The adjoining museum would feature exhibits on the history of Greenwood, including the massacre.
“We have what we need to get started,” said Armstrong. “The goal is to have the facility ready for the public on the (100th) anniversary in 2021.”
Tulsans go to the polls Nov. 12 to vote on the $639 million Improve Our Tulsa renewal package.
Or will they?
Mayor G.T. Bynum, who has spent the last two years working with city councilors to put the proposal together, is counting on it. And fretting over it.
“While I think it’s great that our process this time was just very deliberate and drama-free, the trade-off is, people aren’t all riled up for a street program that doesn’t raise taxes,” Bynum said. “So the thing that keeps me up at night is that people assume it’s going to pass and don’t go vote.”
There are no glittering arenas in this package. It’s almost all about improving and maintaining the city’s infrastructure, with a few million dollars thrown in for emergencies.
If approved by voters, $427 million would go toward streets and transportation projects, $193 million would be spent on capital projects, and $19 million would be collected for deposit in the city’s Rainy Day Fund.
After spending the last decade reconstructing and rehabilitating the city’s streets, this is no time to stop funding them, Bynum said. To do so, he argued, would have devastating consequences.
“A lot of the Improve Our Tulsa program is about proactive maintenance moving forward that you can do for pennies on the dollar to keep the streets that we just spent a billion dollars all over our this city with a lot of cost, not just in dollars, but in time while those streets we’re under construction,” Bynum said. “We have to have that maintenance program in place.
“Let alone the streets that we haven’t reached that this program will cover that need to be done. That will continue to get worse if we don’t pass this.”
After neglecting city streets for decades, Tulsa leaders in 2008 decided to do something about them. The $451.6 million Fix Our Streets package — all of which went to improve streets — passed overwhelmingly.
Voters approved the first Improve Our Tulsa package in 2013. Slightly more than 70% of that $918.2 million package was allocated for streets and transportation projects.
The proposed Improve Our Tulsa renewal dedicates 69.6% of funding to streets and transportation, with the allocation for routine and preventive maintenance of streets continuing to grow as the allocation for major rehabilitation and reconstruction declines slightly.
This reflects the city’s emphasis on protecting the investment it has made in the last decade while continuing to do major street work where necessary.
In the 2008 Fix Our Streets package, a majority of funding went to reconstruction projects. In the proposed Improve Our Tulsa renewal, approximately 15% of the street funding would go for reconstruction.
“We were so far behind in 2008, we had to do a higher percentage of corrective work, which is rehabilitation and reconstruction,” said City Engineer Paul Zachary. “Now we are seeing the fruits of that where more streets are in good or better condition, so more money is going into keeping our good streets in good condition.”
The hope, Bynum said, is that over time the city won’t need to spend so much money fixing and maintaining its streets, opening the door for other city needs to be addressed.
“We are having to spend a disproportionate amount of capital dollars in the program on streets,” the mayor said. “... This is because we have to climb out of this hole.”
Lights on the Interstate 44 Arkansas River bridge will be back on when a state repair project is completed in a few months, a city official said.
The bridge is down to two lanes in each direction while the Oklahoma Department of Transportation replaces expansion joints.
“We are basically a guest in the construction project,” Terry Ball, Tulsa streets and stormwater director, said in an email. “We asked the contractor if we could jump in and fix the lights while they do their bridge job. We will work when they say we can get in and work.
“... They will be complete in the same time frame as the bridge repair job. This is because we will keep going into an area each time they shut down an area where we have lights we can get to.”
Work on the lights is being done by Tulsa’s Traffic & Lighting Systems. The contractor for the bridge project is Garber.
Highway lighting is the city of Tulsa’s responsibility within the city limits, and the city for years has been trying to replace wiring and lighting following a rash of copper thefts that have left stretches of highways in the dark.
The $4 million ODOT project began Oct. 14 and is expected to last until early 2020, weather permitting.
Barrier walls have been set up on the bridge and the speed limit has been reduced. Exit and on-ramps in the area also will be closed at times.
ODOT spokeswoman Kenna Mitchell has said motorists can expect significant delays in the area, especially during peak commute times.
She said drivers should adjust their schedules or seek an alternative route, especially during commute times.
The project will also include resurfacing 2 miles of I-44 from the bridge west to near the I-244 junction (western split). That is expected to take place over several weekends and lanes will be narrowed during those times, Mitchell said.
The repaving work is being done on the weekends so that commuter traffic during the week is not affected by the necessary lane closures, she said.
On average, 50,300 to 86,700 vehicles per day travel the affected section of I-44, according to 2018 ODOT traffic counts.