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Finding the way

Finding the way

By Tom Blakey, The Norman Transcript 

City officials received the "I-35 Frontage Road Operational Analysis" last month, met with Oklahoma Department of Transportation officials and are "working through" the draft, with plans to hold a public meeting and make recommendations to the city council in July or August.

Shawn O'Leary, director of Public Works, said the study was requested to evaluate the operational characteristics of the frontage road system on both sides of Interstate 35 between Main Street and Indian Hills Road, a distance of approximately five miles

The report presents a "dilemma on staff" and is "less than conclusive" as to one-way and two-way options, O'Leary said.

"The study is very thorough, but contains no final recommendations as to the best choice. We'll need more time to make sense of the findings before making recommendations to council," O'Leary said.

The study is the second phase of an overview on frontage road options. The first phase contained economic analyses, citizen surveys, public meetings and the development of a citizens task force.

"We issued those findings in July 2008," O'Leary said. "There was general concern about making changes to the roadway, with public safety being the No. 1 priority."

Concerns included whether changing the frontage roads to one-way might affect emergency response times for ambulances, police and fire department vehicles, he said.

The formation of recommendations has been further complicated by the inclusion of two consulting firms -- HNTB Corporation consultants from Kansas City hired by the City of Norman and Traffic Engineering Consultants from Oklahoma City, hired by ODOT.

The study released last month was originally scheduled for July 2008, but not received until May, he said.

Potential options for the frontage roads would be to do nothing, improve the two-way roads, convert them to one-way roads or -- what seems to be the most likely scenario, O'Leary said -- "a hybrid or combination of one-way and two-way roads" along the study corridors.

The study recently generated by ODOT, TEC and Parsons Brinckerhoff Americas Inc., assumes the frontage roads "will all someday be continuous roadways," O'Leary said.

The study assumes the extension of the frontage road along the east side of I-35 between Robinson Street and Tecumseh Road, where none currently exists. The frontage road is expected to be developed in the area once the North Park development projects are completed, as part of the street network within the development.

On the west side of I-35, the continuity of the two-way system is disrupted at the Robinson Street interchange as the northbound traffic south of the interchange is required to divert to the adjacent city street system to detour around the interchange.

According to the draft report, "The study was requested to consider the frontage road system to be continuous along both sides of I-35 throughout the study area. To accomplish this, each of the frontage road scenarios included in the study included the extension of the frontage road system along the east side of I-35 where currently none exist, and also includes the continuation of the frontage road systems through each of the interchanges within the study area."

One concept was developed for the two-way system and two concepts were developed for the one-way system, according to the study.

O'Leary said consideration of which way to design the frontage roads began when former mayor Harold Haralson asked him in 2007 if it was time to look at the frontage road system in conjunction with the I-35 widening. ODOT's widening of I-35 to six lanes and the accompanying changes represent the first real major changes in about 50 years and "now is the time" to try and project what will be needed for the next 50 years, he said.

"We were conscious of the I-35 project being done, and the importance in making decisions now about the frontage roads was the driving principle behind the study," O'Leary said.

To make such decisions at a later date would be "more expensive, more difficult and more disruptive," O'Leary said.

The study includes existing traffic analyses, projected future traffic analyses, capacity analyses, assumptions and recommendations for the various model alternatives and pages of graphs, figures and fold-out illustrations.

O'Leary said a meeting was held last Thursday, among ODOT staff, City of Norman staff, representatives of the two consulting firms, Norman Mayor Cindy Rosenthal and Ward 4 Councilmember Carol Dillingham.

"We concluded that more analysis needs to be done and more traffic data needs to be analyzed," O'Leary said. "We hope to bring recommendations to the city council in July."

In the meantime, at least one more public meeting will be conducted before recommendations are made and a final decision is made by the city council, O'Leary said

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