If you’re wondering when Riverside Drive will reopen, read this

The city of Tulsa will have all of its work in and around A Gathering Place for Tulsa done in time to coordinate the opening of Riverside Drive with the opening of the park.

Part of the city's work in and around A Gathering Place for Tulsa park includes building a new stretch of Riverside Drive, part of which will pass under the land bridges pictured above. Nearly all of the work being done by the city was planned before the announcement of the park. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier
Part of the city’s work in and around A Gathering Place for Tulsa park includes building a new stretch of Riverside Drive, part of which will pass under the land bridges pictured above. Nearly all of the work being done by the city was planned before the announcement of the park. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

It’s a lot more fun to write about a new park than it is to write about a new storm sewer line. Or, for that matter, a new road.

But the truth is that while the George Kaiser Family Foundation and other generous donors are pouring $350 million into building A Gathering Place for Tulsa park along Riverside Drive, the city of Tulsa is spending approximately $55 million on infrastructure projects in and around the park.

The $55 million is coming from from the city’s voter-approved capital improvements packages – both Fix Our Streets and Improve Our Tulsa – and Vision Tulsa, which was overwhelming approved by voters in April

A $10 million federal TIGER grant will be used to fund part of the work, putting the overall expenditure at nearly $65 million.

The majority of the work being done by the city would have been done whether the park was built or not. Construction of the park, however, provided impetus to do it sooner rather than later.

“The whole reason we are doing things at the same time is to coordinate the efforts and to minimize the tearing out or damaging of new infrastructure,” said Paul Zachary, director of Engineering Services for the city.

So how’s it going?

Zachary said the city will have all of its work done in time to coordinate the opening of Riverside Drive with the opening A Gathering Place. The $350 million dollar question is, when will the park open?

Jeff Stava, who is overseeing construction of A Gathering Place for GKFF, said Tuesday that the project is scheduled to be completed at the end of 2017.

The city, for its part, will work closely with GKFF to coordinate the opening Riverside Drive with the opening of the park. Zachary said the city will work to reopen Riverside Drive sooner but that his priority is to ensure public safety and to limit any potential damage to the park or Riverside Drive.

“Quite honestly, the date the park opens and the date Riverside Drive opens are becoming more and more simultaneous because we cannot from a safety standpoint … introduce 30,000, 40,000 vehicles in the (work) area,” Zachary said.

The key to understanding why Riverside Drive can’t be opened before A Gathering Place is completed is the fact that the park will extend over Riverside Drive west onto man-made bump outs in the Arkansas River. The last thing Zachary – or Stava, for that matter – wants is heavy construction equipment using the newly constructed Riverside Drive onto the bump outs.

The point to keep in mind, Zachary said, is that work will continue on both sides of Riverside Drive.

“Probably what we are going to try to do is we are going to leave blockouts so their equipment, if they are still going to have to get down to the river, that they can do that without driving through brand-new segments of Riverside Drive,” Zachary said.

Here’s a look at the major elements of the city’s work in and around A Gathering Place for Tulsa.

Complete Reconstruction of Riverside Drive, 24th to 41st Streets

This work is being done in two segments.

Work from 24th Street to 33rd Street is in the early stages, with water, stormwater and sewer lines being installed near 24th Street. This stretch of road will be completed and reopened in conjunction with the opening of A Gathering Place for Tulsa park.

The reconstruction of Riverside Driver from 33rd Street to 41st Street is 25 percent completed and is expected to be completed and open to the fall. The project is being paid for with Fix Our Streets funding.

Most of the concrete roadway will include a median ranging from 4 feet wide to 21 feet wide. The dip and curve in the road near the pedestrian bridge will be removed. The road is being built above the 100-year water surface elevation to prevent flooding.

“We are really getting more of a boulevard-type feel all the way through here,” Zachary said.

A sidewalk/trail will run along the east side of Riverside Drive from 21st Street to 41st Street.

The improvements to Riverside Drive have been envisioned by the city for decades but are being done now to coincide with construction of A Gathering Place.

“Riverside Drive rehabilitation would have been required, and probably would have been in the next capital improvement package,” Zachary said. “But, due to the Gathering, the timing, we brought it forward.”

Two Major Stormwater Sewer Improvement Projects

The city is overhauling and extending the Travis Park and Swan Creek stormwater sewer systems to address flooding problems in the neighborhoods surrounding the park and potential flooding problems in the park itself.

The Travis Park stormwater sewer system will run from the neighborhoods east of the park, along the southeast perimeter of the park and into the Arkansas River.

The Swan Creek stormwater sewer system, which runs along the north edge of A Gathering Place, has been overhauled to provide additional capacity to handle water flowing from neighborhoods to east of the park west toward the Arkansas River. Without the improvements, the neighborhoods to the north and east of the park would continue to flood during heaving rains, as would the park itself.

The Travis Park storm sewer system is expected to be completed in a the spring or summer of 2017. The Swan Creek stormwater sewer system is scheduled to be completed in the fall.

These Swan Lake and Travis Park stormwater system improvements were first outlined in the city’s 1989 Master Drainage Plan.

Sanitary Sewer Line

The city has completed construction of a new sanitary sewer line that runs on the west side of Riverside Drive from approximately the 2800 block to 34th Street.

The line was replaced because it was old and might not have been able to hold up under the weight of 30 to 40 feet of fill which that will be placed on it as part of the park construction.

Crow Creek Bridge

This bridge near 32nd Street and Riverside Drive is being replaced and will look much different from what motorists are accustomed to.

The new bridge will include two separate sections with a 16-foot median between them. The bridge will also be about 8 feet higher than the old bridge, allowing room for a path under the bridge that will make it possible for pedestrians and cyclists to get from one side of Riverside Drive to the other without facing traffic.

Building the bridge at a slightly higher elevation also gets it out of the floodplain, Zachary said.

The 8-foot difference between the height of the old bridge and the new bridge will not be perceptible to the eye, Zachary said, as the incline will be gradual.

This project is expected to be completed when Riverside Drive is completed.

“This (project) goes to part of why we had to totally close Riverside Drive,” Zachary said.

Pedestrian Bridge

The project also includes two pieces – the pedestrian bridge over Riverside Drive and the pedestrian bridge over the Arkansas River.

The design for the pedestrian bridge over Riverside Drive is 65 percent completed.

The city is working with GKFF and its landscape architect, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, to come up with concepts for the pedestrian bridge over the Arkansas River.

Construction of the pedestrian bridge over Riverside Drive is expected to begin in early 2017 and take about six months to complete.

Construction of the pedestrian bridge over the Arkansas River will begin in the late summer or early fall of 2017 and take approximately 18 to 24 months to complete.

Complete Rehabilitation of 31st Street, from Riverside Drive to Peoria Avenue

The city has completed plans for this project. Work is expected to begin in the fall and be completed and opened in late summer 2017. A turn lane will be added to the road as well as a bike lane.

A sidewalk will be built along 31st Street that will extend all the way to Zink Park east of Peoria Avenue.

The opening of the section of 31st Street closest to Riverside Drive will be coordinated with the opening of A Gathering Place and Riverside Drive.