Roundabouts part of I-40 plans
If it’s built according to designs presented Thursday night, Clinton’s new Interstate 40 traffic facility will have six new bridges to carry I-40 traffic through town and two ground-level roundabouts to funnel autos before and after they leave the interstate.
And for the first time ever, it will have an eastbound entrance ramp feeding traffic from the west side of town straight onto the highway.
Gary Boulevard, which now feeds westbound traffic onto the interstate, will be extended in front of Kmart underneath I-40 to Chapman Road. Just south of the interstate, there’ll be a new service road leading to a roundabout where drivers will have the option of taking the new eastbound entrance ramp or following a service road to the Water-Zoo and other businesses on the south side of the interstate.
Suggested plans for the new Exit 65 and 65A interchanges were presented Thursday by spokesmen and spokeswomen from the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and the Arkansas engineering firm of Garver, LLC.
Brent Almquist, ODOT’s Division 5 engineer who lives here and looks after state and federal highways in 11 western Oklahoma counties, led off things.
He acknowledged the proposed plans will take some getting used to, but he said they’re the best a covey of engineers could come up with and make sure Clinton does not lose one of the two interchanges being studied.
Federal highway codes have changed since the interstate was built nearly 60 years ago and the new interchanges will have to be constructed to today’s standards, said Almquist.
“To bring Exit 65 up to today’s code, you’re very much in danger of losing Exit 65A,” he said. That’s the one where S. 10th Street turns into Neptune Drive. Apparently based on traffic volume, he said it’s also “25 percent of our access into Clinton.”
But both Exit 65 at Gary Boulevard and 65A at Neptune will be kept, Almquist believes, if the basic pattern outlined Thursday is followed.
“We will have a modern state-of-the-art interchange here in Clinton,” he said. “This design handles the traffic and keeps it moving.”
Almquist said Clinton also should certainly be getting its share of ODOT dollars the next few years. He said the cost of the new traffic facilities here is now estimated at $37.9 million. The annual budget for the entire 11 counties and 104 miles of interstate that he oversees is only $65 million.
The $37.9 million is also more than double the $18.5 million the project here was estimated at only a year ago.
The reason? Primarily those newer federal codes.
Jenny Sallee, part of Garver’s female contingent at Thursday’s meeting, said the exit ramp at 65A, which was completed in 1959, could not be built today. She said the minimum federal standard for distance between exit ramps today is 1,600 feet and the distance between 65 and 65A is 1,000 feet. “So today it’s 600 feet short,” she said, also mentioning a high rollover rate for autos exiting at 65A, which has a hairpin curve on it soon after leaving the interstate.
“Plus, two interchanges next to each other is very confusing,” she said.
In addition, bridges over railroad tracks must be a foot higher today than they were in 1959. That means four new I-40 bridges (two in each direction) will be required to cross two sets of railroad tracks, one near Neptune and the other near Gary. The other two bridges, making a total of six, will be needed to carry I-40 traffic over the lengthened Gary Boulevard itself which not only will be extended to Chapman but also widened to five lanes.
And if any work at all is done on either the Exit 65 or 65A interchanges, Almquist said everything will have to meet today’s standards.
“Whenever you touch that facility, you have to bring it up to code,” he said.
He also indicated the four old bridges on I-40 that will be replaced probably need it anyhow – that three of them are “functionally obsolete” and the fourth is “structurally deficient,” moving into that category since another public meeting was held in 2016.
Eighty-six people signed up at the door for Thursday’s session, including not only townspeople but also Garver employees.
Almquist let them know he appreciated all of them and said their requests for changes to the plans would be welcome, although he made no promises they would be followed.
He said comments need to be submitted in writing by March 14 on forms passed out at the meeting, to ODOT Environmental, 200 NE 21st St., Oklahoma City, OK 73102.
He also reminded that a layout of the suggested plans would be printed in today’s Clinton Daily News.