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Travel: Elevated Highway Removal In Oklahoma City Part 1

July 30, 2012 Featured, Transportation, Travel 5 Comments

Count me among those who think St. Louis needs to remove the elevated section of I-70 north of Washington Ave that cuts off Laclede’s Landing from the rest of downtown. These types of elevated lanes were built during a period where little, if any, consideration was given to pedestrians. The negative consequences weren’t considered at the time but they became apparent later.

As a kid growing up in Oklahoma City we’d have to drive under an elevated highway to get to downtown. I rarely drove on I-40 since it was an east-west route and we lived a few miles directly south of downtown. The few times I did drive across the elevated highway I was nervous doing so, the lanes were narrow and the condition was poor. I never once walked under it.

The Oklahoma City Crosstown is an elevated four mile (6 km) stretch of Interstate 40 that dissects downtown Oklahoma City from Agnew Avenue to Byers Avenue. It is owned and maintained by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT). It is the primary east–west artery through Oklahoma City, and serves an unofficial dividing line between north and south Oklahoma City (the official dividing line for address purposes is [Reno Avenue]). While the Crosstown designed to withstand about 76,000 vehicles a day, it is currently used by nearly 120,000 vehicles a day. The Crosstown was completed in the 1960s using an engineering process commonly termed as “fracture critical”, a process that has not been used since the 1970s because it does not provide redundancies. According to Brian Windsor, an ODOT structural engineer, without redundant support, the failure of a single beam creates the risk of total collapse of that section of bridge. The entire stretch of the Crosstown is elevated, and at some points, the elevation is as much as 50 feet (15.2 m). Other safety problems of the existing Crosstown include falling chunks of concrete and a lack of shoulders or breakdown lanes. In an August 2007 poll sponsored by The Oklahoman, nearly ? of respondents indicated that they were “afraid to drive across the Crosstown bridge in Oklahoma City”. (Wikipedia)

It wasn’t a good roadway, nor could it be retrofitted. It had to come down.

ABOVE: I-40 in Oklahoma City in August 2009

Well, the four mile elevated stretch of I-40 is now closed and is being dismantled. This was years in the planning and before you ask, yes they built a replacement highway in a wide trench a half mile to the south. Part 2 tomorrow will look at the new highway.

As I indicated earlier, I-40 is a major east-west highway:

Interstate 40 (I-40) is the third-longest major east–west Interstate Highway in the United States, after I-90 and I-80. Its western end is at Interstate 15 in Barstow, California; its eastern end is at a concurrency of U.S. Route 117 and North Carolina Highway 132 in Wilmington, North Carolina. Much of the western part of I-40, from Oklahoma City to Barstow, parallels or overlays the historic U.S. Route 66. I-40 intersects with eight of the 10 primary north–south interstates (all except I-5 and I-45) and also with I-24, I-30, I-44, I-77, and I-81. (Wikipedia)

Locals use I-40 but so do many more just passing through Oklahoma.

ABOVE: The old I-40 elevated lanes in Oklahoma City being demolished.
ABOVE: Close-up of old on-ramp to westbound I-40 cutting through the south edge of downtown Oklahoma City as the highway is being removed.
ABOVE: Crews slowly dismantle the old I-40 elevated lanes.
ABOVE: New development (background) can continue to the south once the elevated highway is removed.
ABOVE: Just to the north is the Myriad Botanical Gardens and the new 844ft high Devon Tower, click image for more information. The Gateway Arch is only 630ft tall.
ABOVE: South of the highway was cut off from downtown and investment, places like the Salvation Army were the only ones that would locate there.
ABOVE: Vacant land where part of the elevated highway has been completely removed.
ABOVE: A new entrance to the Chesapeake Arena, home of the OKC Thunder NBA franchise, is being constructed now that the adjacent highway is being removed.
ABOVE: A sign indicates a trail, directing people southward through no-man’s land toward the new highway and the Oklahoma River beyond.

Tomorrow I’ll continue the story with a look at the new I-40 and how to cross it as a pedestrian. I’m excited about visiting Oklahoma City during the coming years as they fill in where the highway was removed.

— Steve Patterson


Currently there are "5 comments" on this Article:

  1. JZ71 says:

    Interesting.  Denver’s starting a similar process to look at the elevated portion of I-70, north of their downtown.  It’s interesting that Oklahoma chose relocation – I’d like to learn more about that process.  I’m guessing that there were political and social hurdles (NIMBY?!) with creating the new corridor, and there were obviously significant cost issues.  I’d also like to know how the newly-vacant, publicly-owned land is being disposed of.  Is there a master plan?  Master developer?  Open bids for multiple parcels?  Market interest?  Or, has the damage already been done, and is OKC looking at many years of not much happening?

  2. I assume you’re familiar with the controversy surrounding Oklahoma City Boulevard, the street/highway that will replace the old I-40 Crosstown alignment?

    City council members only recently learned that the $80 million boulevard replacing the old alignment of Interstate 40 is designed to be elevated far more than previously thought, leaving the road at grade only as it passes through Lower Bricktown and along a new Core to Shore park planned as part of MAPS 3.

    • I’ve not this closely, I haven’t seen the proposed boulevard.

      • Braden Palm says:

        If you remember, Steve, the old I-40 was on an earthen berm west of Western Avenue where it then traveled over Western & stayed elevated all the way to Lincoln Avenue.

        The new plan calls for elevated on the eastern end just west of Lincoln to somewhere in the vicinity of Harkins Theater in Bricktown (use Google Maps as a reference) before returning ‘at grade’, then a brief submerged section with a 16′ clearance below the BNSF railroad viaduct and then becoming at grade with Shields Boulevard and staying at grade until Lee Avenue where (as currently proposed) it will rise to an elevated highway to be connected in to the berm beyond Western Avenue.

        ODOTs excuse right now is that the say they told the people it would be partially elevated back in 1998. As you can attest to, there wasn’t much civic pride or know how by then general public even after 5 years of MAPS 1.

  3. Stephen J. Levine says:

    In the early 2000’s an elevated highway in Fort Worth that separated the old Texas and Pacific Rail Passenger Station from downtown was also removed and replaced by a boulevard.  Also made a major difference.


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