The Norman Transcript

August 25, 2013

Too late for Boren to take reins of Lindsey Street project

The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Editor, The Transcript:

The street project was on its way until a group calling themselves a “visioning committee” made proposals that would dramatically change major parts of the plan that Norman voters have already approved.

Their reasoning, taken from the city attorney’s interpretation, is that “other improvements” in the ballot language allows the city to make major changes that weren’t mentioned in previous public meetings and council planning sessions.

Roundabouts: The OU group, spearheaded by President Boren, wants to implant at least three roundabouts at Murphy, Wylie and Berry, instead of the stoplights. They would supposedly slow the traffic flow and change the image of Lindsey itself, making it more like a “boulevard” than an arterial street (Boren’s words).

Narrow Lindsey: Instead of widening Lindsey, the group calls for making it one lane either way, forcing drivers to slow down, making the street from McGee to Berry more “pedestrian and bicycle friendly.”

Median: Boren calls for a median to run the length of the street, with trees and bushes in the median, developing what he called a “boulevard.” He said it would make a beautiful portal” to OU.

Money: The roundabouts would require the city buying or taking the people’s land through eminent domain at Berry, Wylie and Murphy, estimated by the group to be about $5 million, money that wasn’t in the plan we voted on.

Timing: These changes would also extend the timing of the entire project so the city would not be able to meet the ODOT deadline set for I-35, a critical part of the Lindsey plan. This delay would place an unknown obstacle to the city’s goal to marry up with the I-35 corridor construction.

Federal consideration: We must ask ourselves, will the government put out funds for reducing the traffic flow (one lane either way) when the request is to make a smaller road? No one has an answer, and the risk of being turned down in the future is large.

My answers: A median may be a nice thing but will cost $300,000 or more to build, stock with trees and bushes, and keep up. However, the money isn’t in the original bond price. Will OU pay for that and the upkeep?

Roundabouts were never in the plan. They would require a major, not minor, change in the engineering design, which violates the ballot language by skewing the meaning of “other improvements,” a phrase clearly not intended to alter a future project. The phrase is meant for changes of a minor nature in construction contracts, not a major redesign that would take property, cost $5 million more and expose drivers to a potential high-collision system. If roundabouts were the answer, we’d see them all over this country. They function fairly well in light traffic intersections, but Lindsey is one of the busiest roads in the entire Oklahoma City metro area. Note: Shawn O’Leary, Director of Public Works, said the Lindsey traffic flow is already too large for roundabouts.

Extending the timing on the entire project will bring about problems no one has anticipated or examined because construction on this scale needs to be completed in a timely, coordinated manner. Changing the schedule is foolhardy, expensive and perhaps disastrous to some merchants who depend on access to Lindsey.

Ethical questions have also come to mind. Why did OU wait until the voting was over and the first design completed? They weren’t there at that first public meeting, while the second, at Legends Times Two, was limited to three individuals only who asked questions. Then the meeting was adjourned. The city chambers are generally the site for a public meeting.

Why wasn’t it held there? And why wasn’t more time given for public questions at Legends Times Two?

A larger ethical question looms, and that is OU thinking it can come into the conversation late in the game and make changes when voters have already spoken, the timeline would be ruined, no money has been appropriated to Boren’s requested changes, and the project is a project, not an OU plan. Who else out of the public came in and was accepted to speak about changes? Answer: No one.

And this week, Mayor Rosenthal asked if council should go into an executive session to talk about acquiring land for the roundabouts when council hasn’t yet met to vote on such action, or talked about it in any detail. This is a clear ethical problem that the mayor has brought upon herself. Councilmember Castleberry recused himself of a recent study session because some of his property may be taken in the Berry roundabout. Meanwhile, the mayor, a paid employee of OU, headed by President Boren, chaired a meeting where OU asked to steer major changes in their direction.

It is time to get on with the original plan, to honor what we voted for, and to monitor how the money will be spent on the new roadway and the Imhoff drainage system. If OU had a better plan, they should have gotten involved in the beginning, instead of asking for changes that go against a public decision, a legal vote, and a council-approved budget.

Barry McCarroll