I-44 widening project wraps up 3rd year of construction

I-44 detours planned for 2012

TULSA - Anyone who has driven along Interstate 44 in Tulsa has seen the orange cones, barrels and construction crews.

Since 2009, homes and businesses have been leveled, a one mile concrete drainage system has been buried 30 feet underground and one of the busiest intersections in Tulsa has been completely revamped.

During those two years, drivers have been patient.

"It's been hard, I couldn't get up on I-44," said driver Pam Wells.

"I'll have to detour, go further down than make a u-turn," explained driver Zoretta Moses.

Lucky for some drivers, the widening project at I-44 and Harvard is complete. The interstate has been widened from four to six lanes with a much larger intersection.

"I love it, I love the wide streets the openness of it," said Moses.

But for drivers and business owners in the Peoria area, the traffic nightmare is just beginning.

"I don't even pull out onto that road it's so bad," said Modish Salon & Spa owner, Rachal Lillard.

That road she's talking about is Peoria, right in front of her front door. Lillard says clients are often 10 or 15 minutes late because of the construction and some don't' show up at all.

"I think it's because they head this way and don't want to make it through the construction, they turn around and go somewhere else," said Lillard.

A detour dilemma Lee Mason dealt with for months. His sushi restaurant was directly impacted by I-44 construction.  In order to stay on track he had to get creative and start delivering.

"I wanted to get it out to the customers because the customers couldn't get out to me," said Sushi Train manager, Lee Mason.

The Peoria/Riverside construction is phase three  of the widening project. Right now crews are widening northbound lanes of Peoria under I-44. When that's done they will shift to the southbound lanes.

"It will be similar to what you see at Harvard as far as the number of lanes and the openness," said ODOT Engineer Randle White.

Crews will reconstruct the overpass at Peoria, adding two additional lanes to the interstate, back to Riverside Drive. In the meantime, the eastbound exit ramp off of I-44 to Peoria is closed, drivers must use the Lewis exit instead.

Work in this phase includes:
-Widen I-44 from four to six lanes
-Replace structurally deficient bridge at Peoria Avenue
-Improve entrance and exit ramps at Peoria Avenue
-Removal of eastbound I-44 off-ramp to Riverside Drive
-Addition of protected turnarounds at Peoria Avenue
-Extension of Arkansas River bridge over Riverside Drive to accommodate
entrance/exit lanes for Peoria Avenue
-Construction of sound walls on the north and south sides of I-44

The 4th and final phase of the widening project and the project that will likely cause the most problems for drivers is the Lewis Avenue area.

"Lewis has a bridge going over I-44 and you'll see a new bridge going in at that location," said White.

In order to do that, Lewis Avenue will be closed in both directions for several months. Drivers will have to go to Peoria or Harvard to get through.

The Lewis project won't start until spring or summer of next year. One of the most noticeable changes for drivers will be the straightening of the interstate. Where I-44 curves at Lewis will be taken away, the hill will be excavated and the interstate will run south of the current location.

Through all of this, ODOT says I-44 will remain open with two lanes in each direction. But don't expect the detours to disappear, the entire widening project won't be ironed out until late 2013. Business owners in the Peoria area are ready.

"We're definitely looking forward to it." said Lillard.

Lanes closures and detours are posted on the Oklahoma Department of Transportation's website daily.

Overall Project cost: $360 million

Phase 1: Perryman Ditch $42 million
Phase 2: Harvard $48 million  
Phase 3: Peoria/Riverside $40 million
Phase 4: Lewis $52 million

Watch the full special report Thursday on 2NEWS at 10 p.m. in Segment 2.

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