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Better I-244 bridge a priority

Better I-244 bridge a priority

Government officials plan to request federal money to replace the span over the Arkansas River.

By GAVIN OFF World Data Editor, Tulsa World

Tulsa, INCOG and the Oklahoma Department of Transportation are teaming up to request federal funds to replace one of the city's worst bridges with a new span that could one day accommodate high-speed rail traffic to Oklahoma City.

The three governments are looking to replace the Interstate 244 bridge over the Arkansas River with a $150 million to $170 million span complete with train tracks beneath the bridge's westbound lanes.

The tracks could be used for freight traffic, local passenger traffic and possibly high-speed rail traffic to Oklahoma City, said Jack Crowley, urban planning consultant for Tulsa.

Gary Ridley, ODOT's director, said Monday that the state was also reviewing plans and guidelines about the federal government's upcoming distribution of about $8.1 billion nationwide for high-speed rail projects.

But because much of that money is likely to go to California and states in the northeast, Crowley said Tulsa, INCOG and ODOT will request the money to replace the I-244 bridge from the U.S. Department of Transportation's $1.5 billion of discretionary funds set to be distributed later this year.

The funds are called Grants for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery or TIGER grants. They'll be awarded to projects that build or repair highways, bridges, ports or public transportation systems, including railways.

Crowley said he hoped to send the project proposal to Ridley in July or early August. The proposal would then go to the federal government before the September deadline.

"We're just trying to do a real good job on our end, to tell a good story," Crowley said.

Part of that story would show how the project would help area motorists, businesses and the environment. In addition, the project would replace a 42-year-old bridge, which is actually two separate structures running side-by-side.

Both spans are structurally deficient, meaning they need significant maintenance, repairs or replacement.

There are about 200 structurally deficient bridges in Tulsa County and about 5,680 spread out across the state, according to a federal database of bridges.

In all, Oklahoma is home to about 24,000 bridges.

"The roads are old and beat up, and it's key to take advantage of this and fix as many roads as possible," Crowley said.

Kenna Mitchell, ODOT spokeswoman, said fixing or replacing the bridge, which carries more than 32,800 vehicles a day, is in the department's eight-year plan. She said crews made some repairs to the span last year and that ODOT already has set aside $16 million for future environmental surveys for the bridge project.

Even if the project receives funding later this year, Crowley said he was unsure of a construction timeline. But he said the project would likely be fast-tracked since the goal of the program is to both repair infrastructure and stimulate the economy.

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