Rep. Jason Murphey
Special to The Sun
Many readers will instantly know the subject matter of this report simply by reading the title. These readers are part of the flash mob which suddenly forms on the Waterloo Road off-ramp at 5:40 p.m. each work day. Vehicles overflow the long exit ramp and traffic backs up into the interstate, thus creating an extremely dangerous traffic situation.
The problem continues to worsen as rapidly growing northern Oklahoma County and southern Logan County neighborhoods play host to thousands of new residents. The Waterloo Road exit ramp provides the only mechanism to exit the interstate between Covell Road and Seward Road, an expanse of nine miles.
I have long emphasized the need for a new exit ramp at Charter Oak or Sorghum Mill roads. A proposal to create a new exit ramp is an incredibly complex undertaking involving both state and federal transportation agencies and as such, has been difficult to negotiate.
However, the state transportation agency (ODOT) has developed an aggressive proposal to re-work the Waterloo Road exchange within their current eight-year plan. The plan calls for a preliminary funding of $28 million for this project. It will replace the I-35 bridge over Waterloo so that Waterloo can expand from two to five lanes (two lanes for each direction and a turning lane).
The old bridge has been the greatest barrier to re-working the intersection because currently there isn’t enough room under the bridge. When the bridge was originally constructed, the engineers could not foresee the large amount of traffic we have today.
This provides an illustration of the importance of ODOT’s policy of building with the needs of the future in mind. For instance, there are some who may question ODOT’s decision to replace the two-lane Guthrie viaduct with a four-lane bridge. ODOT officials know that in upcoming years, it will be necessary for Hwy. 33 to allow four lanes of travel and the bridge must provide functionality for many years. Should they not build a four-lane bridge, future Hwy. 33 commuters will face a similar problem to the one at the Waterloo Road exit ramp.
The new Waterloo Road I-35 bridge will be built according to a beam-supported bridge design and provide a 16-foot 10-inch minimum clearance.
Once the improvements have been made, the intersection will probably require signalization. The state will need to enter into an agreement with Oklahoma and Logan County governments to maintain these lights. This will become the first signal light on a Logan County-maintained road, so much may depend on the expertise provided by Oklahoma County officials who should have more knowledge about these matters.
This type of upgrade involves a great deal of complex paperwork. State officials must navigate environmental impact documentation, may need to purchase additional right of way, conduct public meetings to explain the project, obtain clearances, and gain approval from the federal government who will have a say in the project since the interstate is part of the national transportation system.
ODOT will conduct some or all these activities before funding becomes available just in case the funding becomes available sooner than expected.
There is precedent for accelerated funding. The recently completed Seward Road interchange at I-35 was finished approximately two years ahead of schedule, in part because ODOT had proactively pushed the papers to ready the project ahead of time.
The Waterloo Road project joins the Guthrie viaduct replacement, the Hwy. 77 Cimarron bridge replacement, and widening of Hwy. 74 from Covell south as significant upcoming projects inside of ODOT’s eight-year plan. Each year ODOT releases a new version of this plan and as they add more projects or change the time frame for current projects, I will endeavor to keep you informed.
REP. JASON MURPHEY, R-Guthrie, represents House District 31, which encompasses all of Logan County and a portion of northern Edmond. He may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.