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Oklahoma DOT Predicts Major I-35 Traffic Concerns, Awards $66M in Contracts at Commission Meeting

Using data from metropolitan planning organizations, cities, and consultants, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation anticipates near gridlock traffic on I-35 between downtown Oklahoma City and Purcell in the next 30 years. One major choke point is the crossing of the South Canadian River between Norman and Goldsby, shown here during evening rush hour.
Using data from metropolitan planning organizations, cities, and consultants, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation anticipates near gridlock traffic on I-35 between downtown Oklahoma City and Purcell in the next 30 years. One major choke point is the crossing of the South Canadian River between Norman and Goldsby, shown here during evening rush hour.
The Oklahoma Transportation Commission approved a more than $4-million contract to resurface a segment of I-40 near Tinker Air Force Base in Midwest City, pictured here.
The Oklahoma Transportation Commission approved a more than $4-million contract to resurface a segment of I-40 near Tinker Air Force Base in Midwest City, pictured here.
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK — The traffic situation on I-35 in the Oklahoma City metro area and in Southern Oklahoma is expected to become unmanageable in the coming years without bold and immediate action, members of the Oklahoma Transportation Commission learned at their recent meeting.  

Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) Chief Engineer Brian Taylor gave a detailed presentation to commissioners about growing traffic concerns on I-35, especially between Oklahoma City and Purcell and at the Texas state line near Thackerville. Traffic data collected by ODOT, third-party consultant EST, the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments, and the cities of Moore and Norman reveal worsening congestion each year. It is projected to eventually create near standstill traffic during daytime hours on I-35 between I-40 in downtown Oklahoma City and Purcell in the next 30 years.

“I-35 in Oklahoma has regional and even international economic significance, and we know that traffic volumes are only going to continue to increase, especially commercial trucks coming up from Texas,” Taylor said. “The data is very clear that the status quo is not an acceptable solution.”

Taylor noted that ODOT spent 37 years and nearly $1 billion to widen I-35 to six lanes from downtown Oklahoma City to the South Canadian River in Norman but that no further widening is possible due to dense commercial development right up against the interstate. Using data and public input gathered in a corridor study that began in 2016, ODOT is working with the cities of Moore and Norman on modifications to interchanges, on- and off-ramps, and service roads to help improve the operation of I-35 in this area. Additionally, ODOT’s Eight-Year Construction Work Plan includes upcoming projects to reconstruct the I-35 interchange at SH-9 West and widen the interstate to six lanes south of Norman to Goldsby.

These improvements alone will not be enough to address Central Oklahoma’s traffic issues into the future. The department, as well as local and regional government organizations long have acknowledged the need for reliever routes and additional crossings at the South Canadian River, along with improvements to public transit and commuter rail to move traffic in the metro area.

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“A big part of the discussion about additional routes in the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority’s ACCESS Oklahoma program is that ODOT does not have the resources to address these challenges alone,” Taylor said. “An ‘all-of-the-above’ approach will be required.”  

Traffic issues are also increasing on the southern end of the corridor, as the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is investing more than $2 billion in the next 10 years to finish bringing eight lanes of I-35 from Denton to the Red River, where it will transition to six lanes in Oklahoma. Thanks to a major federal grant and partnerships between TxDOT, ODOT, and the Chickasaw Nation, construction will soon begin to widen the I-35 bridges over the Red River and add lanes to the interstate up to Rogers Road/Winstar Boulevard (mile marker 3) near Thackerville in Love County.

The ODOT Eight-Year Plan also includes funding to begin right-of-way acquisition and utility relocation for future I-35 widening between Thackerville and Marietta. In his report to the commission in May, Secretary of Transportation and ODOT Executive Tim Gatz noted the clear need for a six-lane corridor between Oklahoma City and the Texas state line, but that such an effort will take considerable time and resources.  

Other Commission Meeting Highlights
The commission approved speed limit changes at the intersection of SH-99 and SH-22 in Tishomingo, the site of a collision in March that claimed the lives of six teenage girls. Other interim safety measures have been placed, and ODOT is working with the City of Tishomingo on a future project to reconfigure the intersection.

Commissioners also heard updates on federal and state transportation funding and awarded several contracts for highway improvements in the Oklahoma City metro area, including bridge reconstruction on SH-37/S. 4th Street in Moore and several resurfacing projects designed to extend the life of deteriorating asphalt pavement until upcoming reconstruction and expansion. Segments to be resurfaced include I-40 near Tinker Air Force Base in Midwest City, I-35 north of US-77/SH-66 in Edmond, and I-35 south of SH-9 West between Norman and Goldsby.

Commissioners voted to award 21 contracts totaling $66 million to improve highways, roads, and bridges in 19 counties.

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