By Joey McWilliams
CALERA – The deadline is nearing for submitting public comments about the proposal for the road construction through Calera and local citizens received an extension to a meeting held two weeks prior.
On Thursday evening, representatives from the Oklahoma Department of Transportation came to Calera and met with several residents and business owners. Some members of the Calera city council were in attendance, as well as Oklahoma State Senator Josh Brecheen and State Representative Dustin Roberts.
Brecheen clarified the assembly was not really a new meeting, but was more of a perpetuation of the ODOT meeting on June 15.
“There was some concern by some residents in the Calera community that the public question and comment session did not continue as long as they would have liked,” Brecheen said. “So Representative Roberts and I discussed it with the division engineer and he was wiling, as a continuance of that first meeting, to go the extra mile.
“So that between now and when the official public comment period ends, tonight, if anyone had concerns, he could help them be much more specific in submitting their public comments and things they wish they would have asked in the first meeting. They were allowed again tonight to ask them in a public setting.”
A point stressed throughout the evening was that although ODOT representatives and Calera residents were working together to make sure each group was communicating with the other, it did not mean that an issue was solved or that the proposal would be changed right then.
Anthony Echelle, the Division Engineer for ODOT Division 2 which cover southeastern Oklahoma, said the gathering was a time to take questions and get some clarification.
“You know, some may still have some issues with what was presented and what was talked about,” Echelle said. “We’re going to do everything we can to try to accommodate when we can. Some things are going to be feasible and some things are not.”
Echelle said also that it was absolutely important and necessary still to submit any public input to ODOT by the July 5 deadline.
“If we don’t know the concern by receiving a comment, then it really doesn’t exist. We need to know what the comments, what the concerns and what the potential alternatives would be.
“We have several modes of communicating with us. We have online submission through our website, the paper comment form that was handed out the night of the meeting and faxes as well.”
Among the topics for clarification were where new business driveways would be placed on the proposed southbound service road and the options of new or changed on-ramps and off-ramps onto Highway 69/75.
Billy Sprouse, owner of Casteels Tire in Calera and Durant, spoke about points that were agreed upon in a meeting of business owners that happened earlier in the week. Those points included requesting an on-ramp southbound just south of Choctaw Road, the elimination of the Ninth Avenue flyover, renovating the current outlet from Ninth Avenue onto 69/75 to accommodate heavier traffic and an interchange at S. McKinley Avenue that would be similar to the one proposed at Main Street, which would eliminate the need for the ‘bridge to nowhere’ that would connect to B Street.
ODOT representatives mentioned that the flyover was one of the first concepts looked at when the project was first on the table and that the idea of an interchange at S. McKinley has been explored but could prove to be to costly and also problematic with its proximity to a floodplain.
A big reason the road construction can be done is the awarding of a $62 million federal FASTLANE grant, which will cover more than half of the expected $120 million price tag for the project.
But even since the early stages of preparing for to apply for the grant in the spring of 2016, Echelle said the proposal has been fluid.
“The project has morphed from an idea to a conceptual drawing that we used to apply for a grant,” Echelle said. “Once we were awarded the grant, we started refining that. When I say refining, we took the design as it was visualized and in our minds and put on paper to apply for the grant and started refining the fine details. That process is still ongoing and will be for some time.”
Echelle said near the conclusion of the meeting that he believed the meeting had accomplished what it needed to and that both groups had communicated their thoughts well.
He said also that after all public input has been received that his people are going to toil over every comment.
“To toil over those details means that we know that we’re impacting communities, businesses, homeowners and travellers. About 30,000 customers a day use our road – we have to take that into consideration as well. So there are a lot of factors that go into toiling over this kind of project.”
Forms are still available online that can be filled out and submitted via the internet. These forms can be found at odot.org/publicmeetings. Under the description column, click on US-69, then click on Comment Form.