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OKC to take over ownership of Northwest Expressway

OKLAHOMA CITY – Most of Northwest Expressway doesn’t really operate like a highway anymore, so perhaps Oklahoma City should take over its upkeep from the state Department of Transportation.

At least that’s the reasoning behind a City Council agenda item scheduled for consideration Tuesday, Public Works spokeswoman Shannon Cox said. The six-lane road – three in each direction, with a grassy median – is typically recognized in the metro area as running from Penn Square Mall to the northwest edge of the city. But that is just a section of its original designation: State Highway 3. And most of SH-3 doesn’t typically handle metro traffic loads.

“Because of development in the area and all the stoplight signals over time, it’s become more of an arterial street or corridor,” Cox said. “It’s a matter of practicality. … We’ll maintain it just like all our other city streets.”

The Transportation Department and City Hall came to a mutual agreement that the section of SH-3 between State Highway 74 and Hefner Road best serves residents under the municipality’s jurisdiction. As part of the property transfer agreement under consideration by the City Council, ODOT will seek approval from the state Transportation Commission to work on several construction projects along that stretch of SH-3 to bring it up to city standards before handing it over. Once that happens, the section will be removed from the National Highway System.

Under the agreement, ODOT will provide professional engineering services for all items except upgrading traffic signal controllers, which will be the city’s responsibility. ODOT also agrees to provide 100 percent of the construction costs for roadway resurfacing and restriping.

SH-3 actually begins at the Colorado state line at Boise City and runs concurrent with several other highways throughout its length, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. When it splits from U.S. Highway 81, the road becomes known as Northwest Expressway in the metro area. Near Will Rogers World Airport, SH-3 is transferred onto Interstate 240 and then Interstate 40. Miles after it leaves the metro, SH-3 becomes Highway 32 as it crosses into Arkansas.

Cox said decades ago the city accepted the portion of Northwest Expressway nearest the mall, so the new deal is largely just an extension and recognition of population growth.

The shift of ownership should also make it easier for Oklahoma City Hall to develop a bus rapid transit, or BRT, line along the corridor, she said. At the end of 2018, officials announced that the city had received a federal grant of $14.3 million to develop a BRT along Northwest Expressway to Meridian Avenue after a short leg from downtown. Planning Manager Larry Hopper said the grant will receive matching funds from the city –$10.8 million in bond debt and $2.2 million in sales tax proceeds have already been approved by voters.

The nature of a BRT is similar to dedicated mass transit rail, Hopper said, increasing passenger capacity and schedule reliability by establishing priority over other vehicles in normal traffic flow. Other systems across the country show a dedicated bus lane is one possible element; traffic signal synchronization is another. Construction and parking lot development will be necessary over the next several years.

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