OKLAHOMA CITY -- Thirty years after the Oklahoma Department of Transportation started the process of rebuilding and widening Interstate 35, from Interstate 40 to Norman the project is finally reaching Norman.
Monday the state Transportation Commission approved the first four and a half miles of that project, a $43 million contract.
ODOT Director Gary Ridley also provided an update on the state's intense efforts to prepare for the possibility of a major federal stimulus package but it was the I-35 widening project that was providing the stimulus.
Every day, 70,000 to 80,000 vehicles travel I-35 through Norman.
"It's the highest volume, four-lane road that we have in the state, and it has become increasingly more of a problem," Ridley said.
The solution, Ridley told transportation commissioners, is the $43 million widening project they approved Monday; a project Norman lawmakers say is long overdue.
"We've needed it for a long time, we're almost desperate in our need," Rep. Bill Nations (D) District 44 said.
The first phase, which should start construction in March, will widen the interstate from four to six lanes from Indian Hills Road to just north of Main Street. Within six or seven years, ODOT will have widened and rebuilt all the way to the river south of Norman, leaving all the current exits intact including the disputed Lindsay Street exit for which one lawmaker says he's particularly grateful.
"Because, I did not want to see OU President David Boren have to lay down in front of the tractors in order to protect that exit from I-35," Rep. Wallace Collins (D) District 45 said.
Interstate 35 won't be the only interstate under construction, if President-elect Obama is successful in getting Congress to approve a public works stimulus package when he takes office.
"We have every belief that something will happen, we just don't know how much or when or what the rules will be whenever it happens," Ridley said.
To make sure the state doesn't miss out, ODOT has identified, and is readying, about 100 projects from across the state that could be quickly put out to bid.
"These are all projects in the eight-year plan, that are critical projects, these are interstate-type projects, these are bridge projects, these are two-lane roads without shoulders," Ridley said.
On the other hand, if Congress and the new President don't get a stimulus package done, ODOT officials say many of these same projects could be long delayed, as federal funding for highways will dry up in early March.