Oklahoma 97 widening will test Sandites’ patience

“We will be in pain.”

Local residents might be alarmed at how often City Manager Mike Carter uses the word “pain” when discussing the upcoming massive road project planned for the Oklahoma 97 corridor, Sand Springs’ busiest road.

However, Carter hopes residents will focus on a different word that starts with the same letter – progress.

“I’m telling people euphemistically that 2022 was the year of design and construction and 2023 will be the year of construction,” Carter recently told the Sand Springs Leader.

And he hopes that in the end, residents will be so pleased with the progress that they won’t dwell on the pain.

“We’re happy about that,” he said. “This will mean exciting things for our citizens.”

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The main project, into which everything else will be tied, is a $15 million Oklahoma Department of Transportation design to expand and redevelop Oklahoma 97 from the intersection with Second Street north of US 412, which runs south under the highway, to to the intersection with the newly opened section of Main Street north of the Arkansas River.

As part of the expansion, the state will also replace all traffic lights in the corridor, and the city will pay extra to connect the traffic lights via fiber optic cables, allowing for smarter, real-time control of traffic flow and congestion.

ODOT had advertised the project in the fall, but there was no interest.

Carter said the project competed against two other projects that were much larger and that the other projects won the bids because few companies are capable of such large-scale work.

ODOT has withdrawn the project and will put it out to tender again next month when the climate is expected to be more favourable.

Construction is scheduled to begin in late spring or early summer and will take 18 to 24 months.

That’s where the pain comes in.

But if there is pain, why not do all the painful things at once and get it over with?

That’s how the city thinks. Well, that and the fact that by coordinating some of its own projects running in parallel with government work, the city may be able to achieve some cost savings that can be reallocated to other uses.

As most local drivers know, a new Main Street extension recently joined Oklahoma 97 on the east side of the highway just north of the Arkansas River Bridge. The timing was no coincidence.

“We intentionally prioritized this project and pushed for it to open before the Highway 97 project,” Carter said. “We’re going to have growing pains. It’s going to be difficult to get through. We needed that so people could get around.”

What’s next for this intersection will be a dedicated right turn lane from the northbound lanes of the highway onto Main Street.

“This project has been on the books for about 15 years,” Carter said. “When it was first contemplated, ODOT said they didn’t think a turning lane was the right idea at the time,” and the project was not approved.

The current ODOT administration, with whom Carter said “it’s been wonderful to work with,” agreed that the turn lane was needed and said if the city paid for it, the agency would allow it.

The future turning lane is currently paved, but not yet suitable for regular traffic.

“We’re going to build a new turning lane there, and that’s going to help people not shut down and make a dramatic 90-degree turn like they’re doing now,” Carter said.

He said the city was shifting money to speed up construction, adding that the project should be put out to tender very soon, with construction hoping to start by the summer.

Carter also dispelled a rumor about the project — that it had something to do with a recent snafu when a train was stalled for hours on the tracks crossing Oklahoma 97 at that location.

“It has nothing to do with the train problem,” he said. “It takes a while to develop things like this. We looked at it and talked about it for six to eight months.

On the opposite side of Oklahoma 97, the city recently received approval from the US Army Corps of Engineers to build a road across the levee at the south end of Case Community Park, connecting to the highway south of Dutch Bros.

The new road will improve traffic flow in and out of the park during major events like the Fourth of July fireworks and Boo at Case Park, but a side benefit is that it will provide a bypass to Oklahoma 97 if needed.

Carter said park visitors shouldn’t worry about the road becoming an extension of the freeway.

“We will set speed bumps. We’re going to do things to slow people down,” he said during his State of the City address last week. “It’s not supposed to be a freeway through the park.”

Although the levee road, a 2017 general debenture project, was held up for a time by the Army Corps of Engineers, Carter said the Corps and Todd Kilpatrick, Tulsa County’s levee commissioner for District 12, are generally helpful and supportive of the plan had.

The project will be tendered soon, with construction expected to start mid-year, he said.

Carter is excited about all the road work, but cautions that there are more positives to report.

Although ODOT will repaint Oklahoma 97, other streets in the city will also be getting a fresh coat of paint.

“One of the things we did when I took office was doubling the pavement markings budget from $50,000 to $100,000,” he said, adding that another marking package will be completed later this year.

Also, as part of the work along Oklahoma 97, two 96-inch box culverts will be buried along the freeway adjacent to Dutch Bros and Chick-fil-A to divert stormwater from Cox Supersaver and Walmart’s Morrow Road — an area that has experienced flooding been a chronic problem – to the river.

This, in turn, will allow the City to reclaim land in the Sheffield Crossing development that is being used as a retention pond and instead use it for restaurant or retail store development.

Road works and infrastructure improvements may not sound exciting to many people, but Carter hopes residents will look beyond the pain and boredom to opportunities, such as the economic development opportunities, that the projects could facilitate.

“Hwy 97 is key to attracting a lot of these things to our city,” he said.

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