I was in Biloxi, Mississippi last week for a regional transportation conference. As usual, I spoke on my book, “The Next American City.” But I also recounted Oklahoma City’s transportation experiences and was reminded just what an advantage it is to have a long-range perspective. Transportation projects take a long time.
The relocation of I-40 has been a journey all to itself. And, from a planning perspective, we wondered, “how would the city react to this ‘once-in-a-generation’ opportunity?”
I remember in 1998, when I was a television reporter covering City Hall, that the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) and the Oklahoma City Council discussed the realignment of I-40 and the potential path of a boulevard that could replace the existing I-40 corridor. At the time, it seemed so improbable that I-40 and the bridge that held it up as it passed through downtown Oklahoma City could ever be removed and relocated. Move an interstate highway? Really?
We know now that it was not only possible, but achievable. I was the mayor in 2005 when ODOT started construction on the new I-40 alignment and a few years later, I was able to help cut the ribbon to open the new at-grade interstate.
Along the way, we envisioned, designed and built a pedestrian overpass (Skydance Bridge), and worked with a railroad to make sure its freight needs were addressed.
Fast forward to today. The interstate is open and the Boulevard is completed (except for the landscaping). MAPS 3 provided us with the funds to build Scissortail Park as well as a new convention center.
It’s taken more than 20 years, but with the park opening and exciting real-estate plays like Strawberry Fields taking shape, you can see that the city’s vision of adding life to the core of the city and creating downtown neighborhoods is on its way to becoming a reality.
Biloxi and Gulfport have similar opportunities on their horizons and are wisely planning for a future of growth along the Gulf Coast.