There are still big decisions to be made, but the long-awaited plan to finish the Gilcrease Expressway is on schedule, partners in the project learned Friday.
“We’re not without challenges. There’s still a lot of work. But we’re right on schedule. … And we are working on it every day,” Oklahoma Turnpike Authority Executive Director Tim Gatz said at a meeting to update the other agencies involved.
The route of the five-mile, four-lane tollway — which will include an adjacent multiuse trail — was approved by the state in April, and the overall timeline remains the same, Gatz said. The plan should be finalized by May 2018, with construction to begin late in the summer.
The estimated $290 million cost will be funded through a public-private partnership.
The design itself, done by Tulsa-based engineering firm Garver, is near to being complete, Gatz said.
“It might change a little over time, but we’re getting pretty close,” he said.
Between now and next May, though, plenty remains to be determined.
That includes the tolling strategy for the roadway. The terrain — the plan calls for construction of 22 bridges — complicates things, Gatz said.
“The question comes of where do you put a toll plaza? It’s a challenge. So we’re looking at some things that are a little nontraditional for us,” Gatz said.
Also remaining to be determined is the project’s private partner.
“It will be competitive,” Gatz said. “We know that right now. It’s something where we will go through a Request for Information and then a (Request for Proposal) process. We just have to sit down and work out the details on what that potential partnership actually looks like.”
The private partner will be responsible for about a third of the total cost, and will be repaid first out of the tolls.
As previously announced, the other two-thirds will be funded through a partnership of six government entities — the city of Tulsa, the Indian Nations Council of Governments, Tulsa County, OTA, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and the federal government.
The first time in state history that six government bodies have come together to build a highway, the arrangement is working smoothly so far, Gatz said.
“We have an active discussion going on with the partners, trying to address everybody’s needs,” he said. “There’s communication on all fronts.”
The Gilcrease Expressway project began in the 1950s to create a loop around the city. But the planned loop stalled at a necessary crossing of the Arkansas River west of downtown.
Friday’s meeting also addressed right-of-way acquisitions.
“We are currently doing appraisals and hope to make offers soon,” said Sara Wyly of Universal Field Services.
All told, the plan is to acquire 20 parcels, two less than originally proposed, she said.
Rich Brierre of INCOG said, “It’s great that all of you are here. It’s such an exciting project and we are delighted to hear of the progress that is being made.”