A $45 million federal grant announced this week will be used to replace bridges on Interstate 44 in west Tulsa.

The grant also will accelerate an estimated $350 million project to widen the highway to six lanes and replace the I-44/U.S. 75 interchange.

“This was such a pleasant surprise for us to have this opportunity. It’s huge,” Oklahoma Department of Transportation Executive Director Mike Patterson told the Tulsa World.

A timetable on the work has not been determined, but Patterson said it could begin in 2020, two years ahead of schedule.

Phase I of the project — with an estimated cost of $100 million — will replace bridges at 33rd West Avenue and Union Avenue and widen the highway to six lanes from Union Avenue east to the Arkansas River.

“Forty-five million out of one hundred million. That’s a big deal,” Patterson said.

Phase II will widen I-44 to six lanes from Union Avenue west to the Interstate 244 split.

The project will also include a new, yet-to-be designed interchange at U.S. 75.

Patterson said “project sequencing” still needs to be determined but added that “it would be nice to do it all at one time,” referring to the bridge replacements and widening of the highway.

The $45 million Infrastructure For Rebuilding America award, which will be formally announced by the U.S. Department of Transportation on Friday, was spearheaded by U.S. Sens. Jim Inhofe and James Lankford.

“Tulsans know that the stretch of I-44 from I-244 to the Arkansas River is some of our state’s oldest infrastructure, but also one of the most heavily-trafficked routes for trucks and interstate commerce,” Inhofe said in a statement.

“That’s why I’m pleased to announce a $45 million grant for the Tulsa area that will provide necessary upgrades and revitalize an important artery for our national freight system,” he continued.

“This grant will help keep motorists safe by reducing congestion, replacing bridges and modernizing the highway design for efficient travel.”

Lankford said in a statement that “this important federal infrastructure grant is great news for Tulsa and Oklahoma.”

“This transportation route is congested and unsafe, and must be repaired soon in order to improve safety and better manage the quantity and complexity of modern-day traffic,” he continued.

“It is a problem area that has long been identified by ODOT as a critical need for the region; thankfully, this INFRA grant accelerates the construction of this project.”

About 84,500 vehicles per day travel I-44 between the western I-244 split and U.S. 75, according to ODOT.

The 33rd West Avenue and Union Avenue bridges were originally scheduled to be replaced in 2022, according to ODOT’s eight-year plan.

ODOT hosted a meeting in west Tulsa last fall for residents and business owners in the area to discuss the highway’s improvements, as a study is underway.

Patterson said that unlike I-44’s expansion east of the Arkansas River, “we anticipate just a little bit of right-of-way” will be needed for expansion in west Tulsa.

“The businesses are further away from the highway,” he said.

Patterson said the roadway for I-44 in west Tulsa was constructed in 1953, three years before the interstate highway system act was authorized.

“It’s become functionally obsolete,” he said. “It’s 65 years old. It’s time to do something … for not only the freight traffic but the commuters who use this route.”

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Michael Dekker

918-581-8469

michael.dekker@tulsaworld.com

Twitter: @michaeldekkerTW

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