The much-anticipated Lindsey Street bridge over I-35 in Norman is open to traffic after more than a year of construction.
ODOT and city leaders hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony Friday, and pedestrians flocked to walk across during the soft opening of the bridge. City public works director Shawn O'Leary calls it, "A little short-term pain for a long-term gain."
Drivers started using the bridge as soon as crews removed the barricades Friday afternoon, but when they reach the east side, they are immediately confronted with even more construction. The city of Norman is in the midst of its own project to complete the updated streetscape.
"If you live in Norman, you either find the back roads or you don't go out. That's it," says Tim Arnold, who brought his four kids to walk across the bridge. Arnold and his neighbors say they have been frustrated by all the road projects happening simultaneously across their city.
O'Leary points out that is what the citizens wanted, as decided by a vote. "That was the general feedback we got," says O'Leary. "Yeah, if we're going to put up with this, let's do it at one time, one construction period.
Once one of the most accident-prone roads in the state, Lindsey Street will soon feature bicycle lanes and extra space for traffic on one of the main thoroughfares on game day. In the meantime, though, merchants have suffered, with a handful of stores and restaurants actually forced to close because of the impact of construction.
"They have of course been adversely affected. That has been tough to watch what they've gone through," says city councilor Aleisha Karjala, who represents the Lindsey Street district.
Campaigns to "Shop Norman" and "#LoveLindsey" on social media have helped other businesses stay afloat, and now there is a light at the end of the tunnel. City planners expect 40,000 to 45,000 cars to utilize the Lindsey Street bridge now that it is complete.
Arnold says, "We've still got a lot of projects they need to fulfill, before we're really comfortable, but this will make it easier to get across town."
The rest of the construction on Lindsey Street is expected to be complete by the end of the year, but O'Leary says traffic should return to normal in September, just in time for football season.