By NANCY K. OWENS
GILCREASE EXPRESSWAY: This view is of the Gilcrease Expressway where it ends just west of North Lewis Avenue. When completed, the roadway will go west past the Gilcrease Museum, then will curve south and end near the entrance to the Turner Turnpike.
Tulsa Free Press photo
Tulsans are very familiar with expressway construction frustrations and resulting funding and driving issues. Expressways have been developed in the southeast part of Tulsa and the county, and Highway 169 from Owasso to the Creek Turnpike split receives much attention.
A forgotten segment of the local expressway system is the Northwest Loop, which is planned to someday complete the Inner Dispersal Loop to surround downtown Tulsa.
Northwest Tulsa would greatly benefit from the expressway addition and completion of the Inner Loop, first proposed in 1959. Funding for the continuation of the project was initiated in 2003. Enough has been secured that construction can begin from the Tisdale Expressway and continue to 41st West Avenue, the future entrance to the Oklahoma Centennial Botanical Gardens. The expressway will eventually extend south to Sand Springs and beyond, where it will join I-44 at 51st Street between 49th and 65th West Avenues in West Tulsa. Funding for the Inner Loop portion extending to entrance of the Botanical Garden will be secured by 2008. Funding for the remainder of the project still needs to be identified.
The Inner Loop could have a significant impact on housing and retail development in northwest Tulsa and into Osage County. It will also impact the number of visitors to the upcoming Oklahoma Botanical Garden and Tulsa’s Gilcrease Museum.
According to Pat Woodrum, interim executive director and member of the board of the Oklahoma Botanical Garden project, “Figures provided to us by consultants project 300,000 to 400,000 visitors annually. In the beginning, visitors will come primarily from local areas. As word gets out it will eventually draw people from all over the country, and perhaps even some foreign countries.”
The impact of the garden’s visitors will make a significant impact on Tulsa’s economy. Out-of-town visitors bring in revenue. They require rental cars, lodging, food and gas. Projects like the Botanical Garden not only heighten interest in Tulsa, they also stimulate the local economy.
The entrance to the gardens will be dramatic and unique. A two to three mile parkway leading up to the project will be bordered on either side by various plants and flowers. This is a very unusual arrangement. According to horticulturalist Barry Fugatt, ”It is rare for a botanical garden to have such a long and dramatic entrance. It will be quite an experience for the visitors.”
A nine-member governing board selected the 1,200 acre site based on a criterion list of wants and needs to produce a world-class garden. The location turned out to be near to the future Inner Loop.
In emphasizing the importance of the completion of the Northwest Loop, Woodrum comments, “The issue of accessibility is paramount.”
A unique aspect of the Oklahoma Centennial Botanical Gardens is its proximity to downtown Tulsa. The elevation of the land, less than ten miles from downtown, provides an impressive view of the city. The juxtaposition of the natural environment within an urban setting is striking.
The garden is projected to open November 2007.
The construction of the Inner Loop will affect the near north side of Tulsa as well. When asked about the impact of the Inner Loop on the north side, Transportation Planning Manager, Indian Nations Council of Governments (INCOG), Timothy Armer noted, “It should be positive. When considering these projects we spend a lot of time looking at the impact on socially sensitive areas to ensure that it does not disproportionately affect minority neighborhoods.”
Armer also notes that the loop will have a positive impact on the Port of Catoosa in Rogers County. He says, “The Port of Catoosa is very much in favor of the project because the design for the bridge crossing can handle large and heavy loads. Trucks traveling from the Port will have more direct access to the manufacturing areas on the southwest side of Tulsa County. When the project is completed, loads can be transported along this route decreasing the wear on the current route through Tulsa.”