NORMAN — Interstate 35 will be replaced in connection with the Main Street interchange project, officials said Thursday.
The issue was recognized during construction.
“They got the first bridge piers up and realized there was a problem,” Norman Public Works Director Shawn O’Leary said.
ODOT officials had hoped to salvage the existing roadbed while widening it to three lanes in each direction.
“About three months ago, it was reported to city staff that the ODOT team had detected a design concern with the project as it related to the vertical clearance between the new bridge and the current interstate highway,” O’Leary said. “Those clearance standards have changed over the years since that original highway was built because trucks are getting taller. You can’t raise the new bridge, so the only practical solution is to lower the existing highway to create the vertical clearance.”
The Main Street bridge and interchange project is a SPUI — a Single Point Urban Interchange designed to use space more efficiently and allow for the safe movement of higher volumes of traffic within a limited space. Oklahoma’s first SPUI was completed last year at Interstate 40 and Morgan Road. Norman will have the second SPUI in the state.
“There are unforeseen issues in any construction project, and those issues become something you have to adapt to,” said Caleb Riemer, Oklahoma Department of Transportation resident engineer. “Instead of leaving the existing lanes in place, we will be reconstructing those to the profile grade that was on the project.”
The design challenges are strictly related to the outdated grade of this stretch of I-35 and are not related to the SPUI design. While the state’s investment has increased, it was a pay-now-or-pay-later situation.
Paul Rachel, the Division 3 engineer with ODOT, said while the project will be delayed somewhat, the silver lining is that Norman will get a stretch of three-lane interstate that is homogenous with current grade standards instead of piecemeal improvements. The end result will be better in the long term.