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Perkins residents fight proposed road widening

Perkins residents fight proposed road widening



BY RANDY ELLIS - The Oklahoman

Published: October 13, 2009

PERKINS — Calling it a multimillion dollar "road to nowhere,” a group of Perkins residents is circulating a petition asking the state transportation department to alter or abandon a U.S. 177 widening and drainage improvement project on the north edge of town.

"It’s a totally ridiculous plan and a terribly expensive plan for what it’s designed to do,” said Becky Jones, who faces losing part of her yard and two old oak trees to accommodate the road widening project. "We’ve decided to try to fight it.”

Several residents said they plan to appear before the Perkins City Council tonight to ask for the city’s support in opposing the $8 million project. Perkins is located about 10 miles south of Stillwater.

The Transportation Department’s main goal in doing the project is to correct a severe drainage problem that causes the intersection of U.S. 177 and State Highway 33 to flood with heavy rains every five or six years, said Casey Shell, division engineer for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.

Sometimes water gets 2 to 3 feet deep over the intersection, creating a major safety hazard, he said.

To relieve traffic congestion, the project also calls for redoing the intersection and widening a half-mile segment of U.S. 177 from two lanes to four lanes, from the north edge of Perkins to the SH 33 intersection.

A large drainage pond is planned just southwest of the intersection that would drain water away from the intersection and transport it through a pipe that would be built beneath First Street to a drainage ditch on the south side of town.

The ditch would empty into the Cimarron River, Shell said.

First Street is scheduled to be torn up and reconstructed to allow the drainage pipe to be laid and drainage improvements are planned along First Street to help mitigate flooding in town, which sometimes puts the street 6 to 8 inches underwater, he said.

Perkins City Manager Pete Seikel said he didn’t notice much opposition to the project until recently, when the Transportation Department began the land acquisition process. Many still favor the project because it is expected to fix drainage problems and relieve traffic congestion that has plagued the area for years, he said.

Opponents, however, said they have several major concerns.

Renee’ Waitt of Perkins said the town draws its drinking water from a shallow water table and many residents fear the drainage project will jeopardize the town’s water supply.

Seikel said he didn’t think that would be a problem.

Waitt said residents also are upset because Perkins is supposed to be a city of trees, and plans call for beautiful, mature trees to be removed along the east side of the highway.

The widened highway would all but eliminate several driveways and go "almost right up to the porch” of several homes,” she said. Further, the four lanes would empty into the two-lane Main Street on the north edge of town, creating a bottleneck and dangerous intersection.

Waitt and Jones, who is Waitt’s mother, both said they thought it would be better to make U.S. 177 a three-lane highway with a center turn lane.

State Rep. Lee Denney and State Sen. Jim Halligan said they have been contacted by upset constituents and have been trying to facilitate communication between them and state highway officials.

Shell said highway officials have listened to complaints and may be able to make some accommodations.

By changing the way utility lines are laid, it may be possible to save one of the two rows of trees that border the east side of the highway, he said.

Shell said he also would be willing to study whether a three-lane highway would adequately relieve traffic congestion.

Shell said one landowner has asked the department officials to consider moving the draining pond farther southwest to permit development along the busy intersection. He said that’s possible, but it would cost more so the landowner likely would have to contribute to the project if he wants that change made.

Transportation officials said it will probably take a year to 18 months to finish acquiring rights of way and relocate utilities along the highway. After that, construction is expected to take about a year.

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