Tulsa Road Construction Reaches Critical Mass

by Richard Cox


You’ve probably heard the famous quote “If you don’t like the weather in Oklahoma, just wait five minutes.” Who hasn’t? I’ve always thought those words originated from Will Rogers, Oklahoma’s favorite son, but a quick check on Google left me undecided if it was Rogers or Mark Twain who first uttered that oft-quoted quote.

Whoever the author, the words are relevant here because those who use them seem to believe they’re only relevant to their particular geographic location. Go anywhere in the country, except maybe California, and you’ll hear someone talk about the volatility of the weather. And the same goes for road construction. No matter where I’ve lived, the frustration with orange cones and diamond-shaped signs is universal. How many times have you heard the words “You can’t go anywhere in this town without running into traffic cones”?

But it seems Tulsa has finally reached critical mass when it comes to road construction.

The centerpiece of Tulsa’s wide-ranging collection of road improvements is the $360 million widening of Interstate 44 between Riverside Drive and Yale Avenue. The project includes expanding the freeway from four to six lanes and rebuilding numerous bridges. Another primary project is the $75 million repaving of the Inner Disperal Loop’s north and west legs, which includes the reconstruction of dozens of bridge decks.

The improvements, however, aren’t just limited to freeway projects. A tour of midtown area roads reveals that nearly ever north-south artery between Sheridan and Riverside is under some kind of construction. I-44 is also being widened in the Catoosa area. Highway 169 is being expanded between I-244 and North 56th Street. East 81st Street is being widened between Mingo and Memorial and again between Yale and Harvard. And there are many more lesser projects ongoing.

Last week, as I approached the intersection of East 51st Street and South Lewis Ave from the south, I noticed traffic grinding to a halt. When I finally reached the intersection, I noticed the power was out in the entire area, and traffic was being directed by on-site TPD officers. I was on the way to Cherry Street, and because of various road closures I was forced to enter I-44 and travel east to Yale before I could exit the freeway and make a U-turn. I then traveled back west, past Lewis (the northbound lanes of Lewis were closed) and exited at Peoria. By the time I made it to Cherry Street, one hour and twenty minutes had passed.

In the past it’s been easy to complain about Tulsa area roads being substandard. Now, many of them are being repaired, and it’s even easier to complain about all of the construction. Clearly we can’t have it both ways. But one has to wonder if it would be better to spread the road improvements over a longer period of time, or if repairing them all at once is the better choice. Once the work is done, after all, we’ll sooner be able to find something else to complain about.