By Conrad Dudderar
Oklahoma’s newest highway interchange is not just a “gateway” to the west edge of Yukon, according to the state’s transportation chief.
The recently opened Interstate 40 interchange at Frisco Road “is a facility that’s going to contribute to the development opportunities for the community,” Oklahoma Transportation Secretary Tim Gatz said.
“Moving traffic on Interstate 40, it’s going to take some of the traffic ‘pressure’ off of Garth Brooks Boulevard that we all know exists. It’s going to contribute to our transportation system – both the interstate and the local road system – in ways we won’t begin to realize until we get this interchange fully open.”
Gatz, director of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, offered his remarks during an Aug. 27th ribbon cutting ceremony to dedicate the $14 million interchange at I-40-mile marker 135.
“This is a really important part of modernizing our highway system, improving safety and improving access,” said Gatz, of El Reno. “We’re committed to maintaining our highway system at the level that is the safest and best condition that we can.
“That takes a lot of effort and focus.”
After last Friday’s dedication atop the new bridge, the interchange was partially opened to traffic.
Work crews still must finish up a few items before the construction project is finalized in mid-September.
“This is still an active construction zone,” Gatz reminded the traveling public. “We felt it was really, really important – as did the community of Yukon – to get this opened up and functional as we can, as quick as we can.
“But we’re still going to have construction contractor personnel, our own (ODOT) personnel and lots of orange barrels in the area for a couple more weeks as we ‘button up’ some punch-list items.”
Oklahoma’s transportation czar asked motorists to “bear with us” while remaining alert behind the wheel, wearing seat belts and paying attention to reduced speed limits in the I-40/Frisco Road work zone.
The ODOT contractor, Sherwood Construction of Tulsa, will complete the project on schedule and within budget.
“Oklahoma has a workforce that is unparalleled in this country,” Gatz noted. “Sherwood Construction, as a construction contractor, is one of the partners we have that helps us build this type of infrastructure. They’ve done a tremendous job.”
A large transportation project like this requires plenty of cooperation, coordination and interaction.
Yukon’s new interchange has been a joint effort among ODOT, the City of Yukon, Federal Highway Administration, Sherwood Construction, and engineer TEIM (formerly Triad) Design.
“These types of partnerships are key for us to be able to continue to support Oklahoma the way we need to support it,” Gatz said.
“Yukon is always a great transportation partner. This is a shining example of that.”
Construction cost was split 65/35 between ODOT and the City of Yukon. Yukon was responsible for right-of-way acquisition, utility relocation and design costs.
ODOT and the City of Yukon are cooperating in several other projects, including State Highway 4 reconstruction and the Garth Brooks Boulevard multi-use trail.
‘SOWING THE SEED’
About 10 years ago while serving on the Yukon Chamber of Commerce board of directors, Yukon businessman Rick Opitz said he “sowing the seed” about an I-40 interchange at Frisco Road “when all the politicians said it couldn’t be done.”
That seed sowing for a new interchange continued in the early 2010s after Opitz was elected to the Yukon City Council.
“We got it started and got people interested,” said Opitz, who served in 2012-13 as Yukon’s Ward 3 council representative. “Sure enough, here it is. It’s come to pass.
“It’s the most paramount thing that’s happened in Yukon in years.”
Opitz, who owns property on the north and south sides of I-40 along Frisco Road, participated in the Aug. 27th ribbon cutting.
Average daily traffic count for that stretch of I-40 was 44,800 during 2020. But the numbers are climbing again and ODOT officials expect it to be just under 46,000 for 2021.
Mayor Shelli Selby, who officially “cut the ribbon” with some oversized scissors, called last Friday a “great day” for the City of Yukon.
“We look forward to this place being completely developed,” Selby said during the dedication. “Our citizens are excited that they’ll now have a way to get into town without going through Garth Brooks Boulevard.”
Yukon’s mayor recognized current and past city council members, city administrators, Canadian County and state transportation officials, the project contractor, planning commissioners, and traffic commissioners.
“We’re so thankful for all of our local and state support,” Selby said. “I’d also like to recognize former City Manager Jim Crosby, who played a big part in this.”
There are now 27 interchanges in Canadian County and 681 interchanges statewide.