NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — The approval of the largest ever transportation bond in Norman history — $72 million with $67 million in matching federal funds — means major upgrades are coming over the next 10 years.
That means construction is coming. Lots of it. But this time, it will be different.
Public Works Director Shawn O’Leary said part of the reason for stretching the timeline over 10 years stems from lessons learned on Lindsey Street.
O’Leary said the city plans to meet with property owners to let them know what’s coming and to let them know that the Lindsey Street construction nightmare won’t be a shared one for other area businesses.
“We were very careful in our planning and that was part of our thinking in stretching this out over 10 years,” O’Leary said to The Norman Transcript. “We’re not going to load up any single year with three or four different major projects. I think we learned a lot from Lindsey Street.”
O’Leary said the Lindsey Street project was both enhanced and made more difficult by the state’s Lindsey Street bridge project. City transportation engineer Angelo Lombardo said the massive stormwater infrastructure project that accompanied road construction on Lindsey Street exacerbated the problem, as well.
“The two together were definitely a big blow to that area,” O’Leary said. “We learned from that and we’re going to try to carefully manage our projects and have as little impact on commercial corridors, or any corridors for that matter, as possible.”
O’Leary said the ambitious bond program will include about two projects a year, strategically placed throughout the city to minimize negative impacts. Unlike the Lindsey Street projects, which dominated the east-west thoroughfare from I-35 to Berry Road for years, the upcoming bond projects won’t involve major road closures.
The one exception is a small stretch of, what else, Lindsey Street around Elm Avenue where a fairly large drainage structure will be installed.
“The city will attempt to do that design and minimize any potential closure to streets, but if there is going to be a closure that is probably the project that would involve one,” Lombardo said.
O’Leary said many of the projects are unique and they range in scope from streetscapes to brand new roads. He said the most impactful projects could be those in its biggest growth corridors — the southeast and the northwest — where projections indicate the city will continue to expand over the next 20 years.
“When you look at any of the growth projects, residential, commercial you name it, that’s where it’s happening,” O’Leary said. “I think it’s really important that this transportation bond issue gives us the resources to address those transportation corridors to try to keep up with the growth and development that’s taking place.
“This is not a gift or a favor to developers, as some would suggest, it’s really our obligation to try to keep up with those transportation corridors.”
That’s not to say all of the action will take place on the fringes.
Improvements and beautifying efforts to the Porter corridor will come first, starting in 2020. The conversion of Gray Street to a two-way street is slated to begin in the fall of 2022 and be finished in the summer of 2023.
Lombardo said converting Main Street to a two-way street is still a possibility but will need to be reconsidered after James Garner Avenue is connected to Flood Avenue. O’Leary said city staff wants to see how the addition of up to 17,000 vehicles per day impacts the area before finalizing any plans for a two-way Main Street.
That kind of traffic influx to downtown Norman could mean a big boost for core Norman businesses, but Lindsey Street merchant Adrian Buendia said he wouldn’t be surprised if some business owners were anxious.
He said Lindsey Street still isn’t the same since it underwent major renovations, but the future looks bright. He said game day traffic has been better and people are coming back.
“We haven’t gotten back to pre-construction sales and profit yet. But our business (at Eskimo Sno on Lindsey) has been a lot better so far this summer.”
Following the closure of businesses like Penny Hill and Opie’s, Buendia believes Lindsey Street is just one or two destination businesses away from thriving again.
Despite growing pains, Buendia said the end result should be better for business in the long run. And to all those businesses that will soon see construction cones creeping up to their doors, he had a reassuring message.
“Keep the faith,” he said.
Information from: The Norman Transcript, http://www.normantranscript.com