A partnership between the Oklahoma Transportation Department and the Cherokee Nation, which has been in the works for years, led to the $45 million upgrade at Interstate 44 and 193rd East Avenue.
Reconstruction of this intersection will ease traffic congestion and encourage economic development for the entire area, said Mike Miller, vice president of communications for Cherokee Nation Businesses.
“This has been on the drawing board at ODOT for years and is sorely needed,” Miller said. “For a long time, people have referred to this area as ‘dysfunction junction,’ so it’s in everyone’s best interests to have this project done sooner rather than later.”
Because the Cherokee Nation stepped up with a $11,764,740 donation in cash, land donations, utility easements and temporary construction easements, the schedule was fast-tracked to end in 2011 instead of beginning in 2011.
“Anyone who has frequented the area knows that east Tulsa and Catoosa outgrew the existing infrastructure long ago,” Miller said. “It was going to take several years for ODOT to even start to catch up, so we got involved to speed up the process, and it’s worked out well.”
The partnership with ODOT is just one of many the tribe has with various state, county and local agencies, he said.
“Our relationship with ODOT is an ongoing partnership,” Miller said. “The partnership on this particular project, for the I-44 and 193rd interchange, involves the Cherokee Nation bringing $10.7 million in monetary funding and just over $1 million in acreage to the project.”
State transportation engineers working in Tulsa County face one of the busiest periods in recent memory as they work on the most expensive projects in state history — paving projects that total $162 million. In addition to the $45 million 193rd East Avenue interchange, there are the $42 million Perryman Ditch project at the Arkansas River that began in January and the $75 million Inner Dispersal Loop project, which includes repaving more than 40 bridges downtown.
“This is the busiest since I have been here,” said ODOT Division 8 engineer Randle White. “We are glad to be busy.”
Becco Contractors Inc. of Tulsa will widen I-44 from four lanes to eight at the junction. Becco will also replace two deficient and functionally obsolete bridges. Work will include the lengthening and widening of the on- and off-ramps, as well as the widening 193rd East Avenue to six lanes underneath the interstate.
The project will benefit the thousands who visit the Cherokee Nation resort. The tribe spent $155 million to expand the resort, renamed Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. That rebranding project transformed the property with more than 125,000 SF of gaming space and 35,000 SF of meeting space. The 350-room hotel is home to more than $2 million in rock music memorabilia on display throughout the property.
Work in the Fast Lane
The work at 193rd East Avenue has been part of ODOT’s long-range planning and would have taken years to complete. With the construction of the Hard Rock resort, traffic, which had been growing steadily worse since the Cherokees opened the resort earlier this decade, was becoming agonizing – bumper-to-bumper, start-stop – through Admiral Place, the I-44 eastbound off-ramp and 193rd East Avenue.
Adding to the complexity of the projects are the high traffic volumes whizzing past workers at about 70 mph. With more than 68,000 vehicles in this area each day, the majority of the lane closures will take place on evenings and weekends. Special provisions are in place with Becco to minimize the construction impact. The traffic count on I-44 at 193rd East Avenue is 68,000 per day. On the surface street, the traffic count is about 14,000.
“There are a lot of areas with higher counts, but that interchange is too narrow for that amount of traffic,” said Joe Frederick, Division 8 engineer.
Crews are a month into the project. Ground preparation and drainage work is ongoing. It is too early to tell whether work is ahead of schedule, White said. The 22-month project is expected to go to the end of 2011. Contractors have a $20,000-a-day incentive to finish early. They also face a $20,000-a-day penalty for not meeting deadlines.
In the early going, crews are getting the drainage and retaining walls in place before the actual paving starts.
Traffic will be kept open in both directions during the 21-month-long project. Drivers will need to be prepared for slower traffic and shifting lane routes.
The first phase of the work will be to build a new eastbound bridge on the south side of the junction. Once this bridge is finished, eastbound traffic will be shifted onto it, and the old eastbound bridge will be removed and replaced. Once the eastbound route is complete, work will begin to replace the westbound bridge. Widening work on 193rd East Avenue cannot be completed until all new bridges are in place.
ODOT has made a commitment to keep traffic flowing as smoothly as possible during the construction phase, Frederick said.
Rogers and Tulsa counties, the cities of Catoosa and Tulsa, the Port of Catoosa and countless local businesses and residents stand to benefit from this highway improvement project. ?