It’s looking more and more like the state will build a roughly 5-mile extension of the Gilcrease Expressway from Interstate 44 to Edison Street.
Oklahoma’s top transportation officials met with local leaders in Tulsa last week to discuss the four-lane tollway project and other infrastructure needs. And although the details of the discussion have not been made public, indications are that state transportation officials intend to get the project done.
“I think state officials absolutely support the project,” said Deputy Mayor Michael Junk, who attended the meeting at the INCOG offices downtown. “It helps us get a little closer to that external loop around Tulsa that not only allows for growth and economic development on the west side, but also gets a lot of heavy traffic off the Inner Dispersal Loop.”
Tim Gatz, executive director of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, said Tuesday that OTA is getting closer to making the project a reality.
“But we are still in the process of flushing out the partnership that is going to be necessary,” Gatz said. “Like I said, we’re getting closer, but we’re not to the point where we have got a lot of information to disclose yet.”
Gatz described the INCOG gathering as “pretty much a working group meeting” held periodically to update information and “see where everyone is at.”
“We’re still fleshing out the details,” he said.
Junk said a big hurdle remains.
“There is still a large amount of funding that needs to be identified,” he said.
State officials have said previously that they are awaiting the results of a traffic and revenue study to determine whether the $256 million project would be feasible. Gatz said he’s still not seen a final report.
“So we are kind of waiting on it and a few other things to come together,” Gatz said.
Paul Zachary, director of Engineering Services for the city of Tulsa, told city councilors Wednesday that he expects to receive a definitive answer from the state within two or three months.
“Right now we are very optimistic that the state and OTA are going to have increased interest in the Gilcrease, and that is what we are working on with them right now,” Zachary said.
Joining Junk, Gatz and Zachary at the INCOG meeting were state Transportation Secretary Gary Ridley, ODOT Executive Director Jim Patterson, INCOG Executive Director Rich Brierre, Tulsa’s Chief of Community Development Nick Doctor, as well as other local officials.
Gilcrease Expressway was first envisioned nearly 60 years ago as part of the state Metropolitan Area Expressway System. The plan called for a stretch of roads that would eventually run from Interstate 244 just east of Memorial Drive to Interstate 44 at west 51st Street.
But actual construction has been slow. Building the 5-mile extension, which would cross the Arkansas River at 57th West Avenue and connect to Highway 412, would leave only the stretch from Edison Street to the Tisdale Expressway to be built.
Seven million dollars a year in federal funds and $1.75 million a year in local funds are currently dedicated to construction of the expressway — not nearly enough money to complete the project anytime soon. City officials estimate that under the current funding program the expressway would not be completed until about 2052.
Local officials have argued for decades that completing the expressway would help spur economic growth in west and northwest Tulsa and would make it easier for truckers and other travelers to get through the city.
Critics of the project say it makes no sense for the city to spend its limited sales tax dollars on more infrastructure — essentially expanding the footprint of the city — when it cannot afford to maintain the infrastructure it does have. It makes better sense, they argue, to use those funds for the existing, more developed areas of town.
According to the Gilcrease tollway plan state officials are considering, the city of Tulsa would not pay for the ongoing maintenance of the road — at least not directly.
That would be the responsibility of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority and the motorists — including, presumably, many Tulsans — who choose to use the tollway.