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Oklahoma DOT Takes First Steps to Modernize I-40 Corridor Near Tinker Air Force Base

by: Larry Bernstein
A Komastu excavator moves dirt on the I-40 Del City Bridges project near Oklahoma City.
A Komastu excavator moves dirt on the I-40 Del City Bridges project near Oklahoma City.
Tinker Air Force Base, located southeast of downtown Oklahoma City and home to 26,000 military and civilian employees, is the largest single-site employer in the state. The Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) is in the midst the I-40 Del City Bridges project, which impacts a significant amount of traffic to and from Tinker and involves six bridges.

Of the six bridges that are part of the project, five are structurally deficient. The bridges, which were built in the early 1960’s, have reached their expected life span. They have old and worn-out decks as salt from winter weather treatments got into them leading to cracks, corrosion, and pop outs.

Maintaining these bridges was putting a major strain on ODOT’s crews. “Weekly, we had crews working on the bridge deck holes, which meant we had to shut down at least two lanes on the interstate leading to backups,” said ODOT District Four Engineer Trenton January, who oversees the District Four department construction program.

According to 2018 traffic data, nearly 90,000 vehicles use the area daily. I-40 is a big truck corridor, but also has lots of local traffic and out of staters. Much of the local traffic is going back and forth to Tinker.

Corridor Improvements
The project entails completely rebuilding the bridges. The new bridges being built are the first piece of a larger corridor improvement being undertaken.

Each of the new bridges, which will be three lanes on each side and range from 200 to 400 feet in length, go over Crutcho Creek or city streets. The bridges will be widened to accommodate a future fourth lane in each direction, will be slightly longer, and built taller to bring them to modern bridge standards.

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The team will also be redoing the pavement between two of the bridges. Finally, the project will include creating longer on and off ramps for acceleration and deceleration.

“We are working closely with Del City officials to tie in on and off ramps to make sure the interchange with the city street is up to date,” said January. This requires doing some work on city streets to ensure they are functional with the interstate. When vehicles exit the off ramp, there needs to be enough capacity and turning lanes to avoid back-ups from the ramps onto the interstate. This also will require having traffic lights timed correctly.

Upon completion of the new bridges, the current bridges will be demolished.

Construction Challenges
Working within city limits can be challenging due to space constraints, and this project is no different. Businesses and communities are close to the interstate, leaving a small footprint for the contractor to work in.

“Because we have tight work zones, we have to consider how many lanes will remain open to keep everyone safe versus how much we want to inconvenience people with a longer construction schedule,” said January.

Although commuters are never happy dealing with closures and detours, many who use I-40 are more than willing to deal with the inconvenience. “The people in the area are ready for this project to happen because they know the bridges are in bad condition,” said January. The regular closures for maintenance were a regular annoyance for commuters.

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To ensure commuters were ready when the project began, ODOT communicated with the businesses and emergency personnel in the area. They consistently communicate about openings and closures. By talking with everyone who is impacted, it has helped to keep traffic flowing as people are not surprised when they come through the area and can even plan alternative routes.

Contractor Ingenuity
The contractor, Manhattan Road and Bridge Co., which has worked on several bridges across the state, “has come up with some ideas that help to keep the project moving along,” said January.

When ODOT put the project out for bid, they allocated 970 days for completion. They asked contractors to submit days for completion as part of their bid – in addition to price. “It allows the contractor to get aggressive and bring in new and different ideas to bid dates lower,” said January. Manhattan Road and Bridge got the schedule down to 809 days.

There are settlement issues around some of the bridges. As part of the plans, ODOT had a way to address the issue. However, Manhattan handled the challenge differently.

“The plans called for Manhattan putting fill in the area right away, so they could work on other areas while it settled,” said January. “However, the contractor did the ground improvement instead and in a much quicker fashion in order to keep the project moving which allowed them to keep to the schedule they set.”

The project began in September 2020 and is scheduled to finish in March 2023.

Good Plans Equal a Good Budget
The construction budget for the project is $80 million, and it’s being financed entirely by the federal government.
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In the early going which has included a good deal of utility relocation, the project is on budget. “It’s been a clean job as it has a good set of plans,” said January. To date, the project only has needed one change order on materials – swapping out cement-treated base and using asphalt instead – that led to $240,000 in cost savings.

When the I-40 Del City Bridges projects is complete, the public will enjoy a smoother ride as the frequent shutdowns and emergencies will be a thing of the past. The removal of the decrepit bridges will also free up ODOT manpower that was regularly patching the bridges to keep them functional. Commuters to and from Tinker – and throughout Oklahoma City – will see the first efforts towards modernizing the I-40 corridor.

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