By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
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The design challenges are strictly related to the outdated grade of this stretch of I-35 and are not related to the SPUI design.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.
“There’s not a waste of additional money,” Rachel said. “There is no wasted effort in this. It was caught at a time when we didn’t have to do something more radical.”
During construction, Riemer said there will always be two lanes of through traffic at all times during the day from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
“The lanes that they’ll be moving traffic to will be part of the new construction, which was originally part of the design sequence,” Riemer said.
The original deadline for the project was March 2014, with incentives for early completion. Those deadlines will have to be changed.
“This is not the contractor’s fault; he cannot be penalized for that,” O’Leary said. “This is an ODOT project, and we are very involved as it relates to Norman, but we are not party to the contract. What we’re trying to remain focused on is how this impacts Norman.”
ODOT is still hoping for a March completion date, but the project could run longer.
“Currently, we’re in negotiations with the contractor,” Rachel said. “We will absolutely still have incentives for early completion.”
The SPUI style of interchange was selected for I-35 and West Main Street by ODOT and the Federal Highway Administration following an extensive Environmental Assessment process. Norman residents participated in the process for creating this gateway, which will include aesthetic enhancements.
Artistic enhancements on the bridge will depict the Land Run of 1889, along with other embellished concrete bridge elements. Other betterments at the exchange include overhead lighting, fencing and sidewalks. Landscaping will be maintained by Norman, and the words “City of Norman” etched in concrete will welcome visitors to the city.
The project is the result of years of planning and collaboration. Eight bridges are included in Norman’s enhancement program. ODOT partnered with Norman, Art in Public Places and Creative Design Resolutions Inc. to develop the thematic approach to five new bridges and two retrofit bridges in Norman as well as another new bridge at I-35 and State Highway 9 West, south of Norman, according to city staff reports.