By Conrad Dudderar
Construction along State Highway 4 has started – and officials are hearing from motorists frustrated about the much-lower speed limit.
An Oklahoma Department of Transportation contractor on Jan. 20 began work to widen SH-4, add shoulders and replace bridges in Yukon city limits. Manhattan Road & Bridge of Tulsa was awarded a $13,135,000 contract for this much-anticipated project along the well-traveled roadway.
The first phase – from Wagner Road to Wilshire – will take about 1-1/2 years to complete, City Manager Jim Crosby said at Tuesday morning’s Yukon Chamber of Commerce Legislative Breakfast.
Some drivers have complained about the reduced speed limit, which people were warned about several weeks ago.
The contractor had wanted the speed limit reduced to 25 mph in the construction zone, but ODOT officials decided on 35 mph.
“A study is done by a traffic engineering company,” Crosby told Legislative Breakfast attendees. “They work with the state and they determine where the traffic detours are and where the speed zones are.”
The speed limit may be reduced to 25 mph on the north end of the project later this spring when contractor crews rebuild the SH-4/Wilshire intersection – where left-lane bays will be added, according to ODOT spokeswoman Lisa Shearer-Salim.
“We set speeds at the highest limit we believe is safe for drivers to navigate the work zone,” Shearer-Salim said.
In mid-January, the ODOT spokeswoman advised motorists to “plan accordingly” and “be prepared for delays” while traveling in this area.
Yukon police officers have a strong presence along the Highway 4 construction area to watch for speeders – but a lack of road shoulders presents a problem.
“There’s no place to pull people over,” Crosby pointed out. “It’s very dangerous out there, and you don’t want to cause a wreck.”
The volume of traffic – combined with large contractor trucks crossing SH-4 – makes the area that much more dangerous, officials said.
The City of Yukon already is in the process of acquiring right-of-way for phase two of the SH-4 project.
“The plan is, in 2022, we will start the second phase from Main Street all the way to Wagner Road,” Crosby said. “We’re very excited to get that done. The third phase will be in Oklahoma City’s area – from a little north of Wilshire all the way to Northwest Highway.”
Meanwhile, Yukon’s city manager was asked for an update about the Frisco Road/Interstate 40 interchange project.
Utility relocation should be finished in about 30 days and contractor bids will be solicited in June so construction can start, Crosby said.
‘FLAT’ STATE BUDGET EXPECTED
State Sen. Stephanie Bice, R-Yukon, talked about Oklahoma’s economy during Tuesday’s Yukon Legislative Breakfast.
Gov. Kevin Stitt’s State of the State address on Monday, Feb. 3 was his second opportunity to address the state Legislature and offer his vision “of where we’re going as a state,” Sen. Bice said.
“One of the messages that I got is that we’ll see a flat budget this year,” said Bice, who represents Senate District 22. “We had increased revenues last year and were able to put money into the Rainy-Day Fund, which is great.”
However, Oklahoma’s Rainy-Day Fund is constitutionally capped at 15 percent of the appropriated budget – about $800 million.
During the economic downturn in 2015-17, there was an average annual $600 million budget shortfall.
“That was a wake-up call for many of us in the legislature that we needed a larger savings account,” the District 22 senator said.
In his Monday address, Gov. Stitt proposed a state question to increase the Rainy-Day Fund cap.
“I think that seems reasonable,” Bice told the Legislative Breakfast audience. “In Oklahoma, we live and die by the oil and gas commodity prices. To have that cushion to be able to weather the storm is going to be really important.”
Also last year, at Stitt’s request, another $200 million was placed into an energy stabilization fund.
“We have about $1 million now in some sort of savings, which is going to be really important because the price of oil has gone down to $50 a barrel and natural gas prices are depressed as well,” Sen. Bice said. “We will see some lowering of expectations for next fiscal year. But I don’t think we’re going to see any budget cuts like we’ve seen in the past, which is a good thing.
“Unfortunately, that also means we might not see much revenue given to the agencies.”
More than 2,000 bills have been filed in the state House and Senate for the new legislative session that started Feb. 3. These bills have been assigned to committees.
“The governor does have a long-term vision and I appreciate that,” Sen. Bice said. “We really haven’t had that in the past. I’m looking forward to working with him and members of the Senate to continue the work we’ve been doing over the last year.”