Transportation official: Public safety at heart of Oklahoma turnpike proposals


While the challenging times we're experiencing today may seem impossible to overcome, I know our economy and population will continue to incrementally grow, along with our infrastructure needs. During the past five decades, I have observed economic downturns and have watched Oklahoma and our communities become stronger. I have observed small towns grow into cities and our cities grow and unite into metropolitan areas that offer a quality of life that exceeds any in the nation.

During these many years, I have also been a direct participant in trying to make sure our transportation system safely served the needs of Oklahoma. The Oklahoma City metropolitan area is a prime example of how that growth outpaced our ability to provide that safe transportation system.

These needs exist due to the extreme growth in the traffic volumes on the urban interstates especially on the Interstate 35 corridor and the I-44 corridor, south of I-40. While the Department of Transportation has done its best to keep pace, these volumes already exceed the capacities of our highways. For example, despite our best efforts over the last 25 years to increase the capacity of I-35 south of the Oklahoma River, peak traffic volumes already impede progress, cause delays, congestion and most critically, contribute to many accidents (3,490 in the past five years). We have a similar problem on I-44 south of I-40. Drivers who use these routes in the morning and evening have a good understanding of the problem.

The proposed Driving Forward initiative is absolutely necessary to address the extreme transportation needs of today and for the future. Alternate routes are required to offer additional and far safer travel options for local and through traffic. As transportation professionals, we cannot continue to ignore these problems; to do so would be irresponsible.

Our way forward is careful, calculated and inclusive. We are mindful of public sentiments and concerns. The acquisition of property to support these new reliever routes, east and west of these problem areas, is required and will not always be well received. However, our top priority is to minimize impacts to private property and we will stay engaged and continue to seek public input.

When the Centennial Expressway, I-240 in south Oklahoma City, I-44 west of downtown Oklahoma City and the Kilpatrick Turnpike were announced, all were met with opposition. These corridors came about because of the demand of the existing system and the safety problems at the time due to high traffic volumes. These are the same reasons we need to build the two reliever routes on the east and west sides of Oklahoma County.

We're headed for a crisis if we do not respond immediately and bring improvements quickly. Congestion results in increased accidents that include injuries and fatalities. We know that by doing nothing, we are looking at battling even more traffic fueled by a projected 40 percent population growth by 2040.

These new highway routes, extending the Kilpatrick south on the west side of Oklahoma County and connecting I-40 and I-44 on the east, are absolutely necessary. I have a responsibility to provide the safest and best system possible. These two projects are vital for the public safety of our state.

Ridley is Oklahoma's secretary of transportation.

View the original article on NewsOK.com.

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