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On the road again: Cherokee County Projects

On the road again: Cherokee County Projects

This article first appeared in Tahlequah Daily Press

May 01, 2009 10:16 am

Several highway and bridge construction projects are among elements of an eight-year plan Oklahoma Department of Transportation officials discussed Thursday with Cherokee County residents.

Projects on the drawing board include construction of a Baron Fork Bridge on State Highway 51 east of Tahlequah, and widening State Highway 82 north of Tahlequah to four lanes. Darren Saliba, Division 1 district engineer, said the S.H. 82 widening is expected to start near the highway’s intersection with the State Highway 51 Spur and continue north two miles.

“The traffic count’s 8,500 cars a day through there,” Saliba said. “It [count] gets smaller as you go north and west.”

Neither of the projects is expected to be completed soon. ODOT projects construction to start on the bridge and S.H. 82 in 2015.

Saliba said a more timely project is a chip-and-seal job scheduled for State Highway 10, which will run from the U.S. Highway 62 junction for 10 miles north. Chip-and-seal helps protect a surface from aging, eliminates dust, and restores the surface.

“The chip-and-seal machine moves fairly quickly,” Saliba said. “We should be able to do it quickly.

Officials still plan to improve S.H. 51 from Wagoner to the state line. Environmental studies are being conducted in some of those areas.

The 14-Mile Creek bridge on S.H. 51 is set for construction in 2014, but the bridge on Fort Gibson Lake is scheduled to be built in 2011.

“It may seem like we’re moving at a turtle’s pace, but we’re making progress, and it takes time to build a bridge and a road.”
The eight-year plan is updated every year. Saliba said bridges need attention, like the Grand River bridge, the structure over 14-Mile Creek, and Thompson Branch north of Tahlequah.

ODOT Deputy Director and Chief Engineer John Fuller said the department has had to perform a balancing act with available funding.

“The needs are tremendous across the whole state,” he said.

State Sen. Jim Wilson echoed Fuller’s comments and added that inflation is a key component of the state’s ability to fix roads.
“Inflation will eat up all the Legislature gives them,” he said. “The stimulus money will do some good, but it’s not going to catch us up.”

The ODOT representatives were asked whether Tahlequah residents will see a four-lane S.H. 51 between Wagoner and Tahlequah.
“Not in your lifetime, and probably not in your children’s or grandchildren’s lifetime,” Fuller said. “We don’t have the money and we don’t have the traffic.”

Fuller said if such a highway were constructed, it would probably start in Tahlequah and move west. He said the four-laning of S.H. 51 between Wagoner and Coweta was constructed because of the traffic count.

“We need to change the way we think,” Saliba said. “We need to come up with some creative financing, maybe consider some public and private.”

Work is also continuing on State Highway 82 south of Tahlequah. That project starts five miles south of U.S. 62 and extends to S.H. 100, at a cost of $9.3 million.

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