Some could have a breather, some would still be in limbo. Helene Murdock, PE, Poe & Associates, said the decision to reveal the preliminary route maps on March 10 for the proposed Eastern Oklahoma County Turnpike would help alleviate the emotional turmoil this proposal has caused for many in the region, some of the turmoil, for some of the neighbors.
Murdock is vice president of the company that was hired by the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority to manage the entire Driving Forward Oklahoma program that will pour $600 million into expanding the state’s turnpike system. The largest of the projects is the EOC, touted as the “reliever-route” of congestion, and safety enhancer to handle what state leaders insist is big growth coming to central Oklahoma over the next 20 years.
She is not involved in the politics of the project. She doesn’t know about local leaders. She doesn’t know about the bond sales to fund it. But she is an engineer. And she knows engineering.
Helene Murdock is who to call with route questions. OTA is giving out her number. And she’s taking the calls or returning them.
Despite the emotional trauma of the whole thing for many in the area from south of Luther all the way down to I-40 (particularly Harrah), it’s interesting to hear about the process. She describes a dedicated team of engineers from her company, OTA, Olsson Associates and others (who sometimes are competitors) who have rolled up their sleeves to the task. She compares it a bit to working a puzzle or a Rubics cube. Problem solving tenacity.
“We have a marvelous team. They are the brightest and best in the engineering field. I have all confidence in them.”
During an intense couple of days recently, she said the team noted every public comment while pouring over white boards, maps, models and figures. She said the notations from neighbors from the Jan. 26 meeting of cemeteries, animal sanctuaries, vineyards, schools or historic spots were invaluable. Murdock is fairly confident most of the route (until they pick the pink or the blue) is settled within a few hundred feet here and there.
She said the yellow line at the south end of the corridor at I-40 and Luther Road came together rather easily, following the power lines and abutting the Horseshoe Lake OG&E power plant north of Harrah where it juts out of the original study area between NE 23rd Street and Luther Road between Choctaw and Harrah (where the only exchange is proposed) up to NE 63rd Street. Then the road winds back over to just east of Peebly Road. Then there’s a fork – blue or pink. The Blue Route goes west and ends at the current exchange at the Hogback Road Exit on the Turner Turnpike (in OKC limits). The Pink Route winds back east and would attach to Turner east of Dobbs (and includes Luther Town limits).
“While we study the pink or blue route, we wanted to put it out there for folks truly not affected to be able to breathe, relax and have a certain amount of peace, while some will still be in limbo and that is unfortunate,” she said.
Murdock said both routes have their pros and cons – relatively the same number of “rooftops” affected and about the same cost.
The blue route, however, crosses a railroad and a floodplain – necessitating more bridges and complication. She said their charge is to be good stewards in road design and construction, and to leave the area better after they go (with the addition of a turnpike, of course). There will be extensive environmental work to test soil, aquifers and riverbanks. The route is shorter, the exchange area makes sense and access to nearby road systems (and an OKC fire station) is nice, she said.
The pink route is more of a straight shot. But it would be longer. And the exchange would have to be created in the vicinity of Dobbs Road just north of 164th Street to join the Turner.
Decision time? Murdock says this has been an accelerated process. When asked why, she alluded to the bond funding. For the funding source utilization, the bonds, she said they want to be as “fiscally responsible” as possible.
They are hurrying to choose the route. Hurrying carefully. It will be within a few weeks. If you know about quicksand, or artifacts or other factors, she said call her. The information is helpful.
To come, more study. She said historical archaelogists will be consulted and might hike parts of the route. Things like curves and acceleration and whether exits should have two or four lanes must be decided. More aerial survey work will be done, and something called geotechnical exploration. Consideration of utilities must be taken to minimize disruption.
And once the route is finalized, the tango begins with OTA and landowners – offers or lawsuits (the eminent domain process). But that’s not Murdock’s area.
She said the project is on target budget-wise and time-wise.
“With our system of transportation, changing or adding pieces is not necessarily popular, and it’s worse for whoever it directly affects. Unfortunately, there is no way to promote systems without affecting some,” she said.