MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

April 21, 2013

Street projects accelerated, but little work is apparent

Officials say most progress is in paperwork but also fault rain

By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer

— City councilors approved the funding necessary to “fast track” two street projects in northwestern Muskogee nine months ago, yet there is scant evidence of progress.

A decision to leverage revenue from a sales tax dedicated to the city’s long-range streets plan provided immediate access to nearly $10.65 million. Residents expected to see by now progress toward the widening of South York Street and the improvements of Martin Luther King and North 24th streets.

The York Street project was delayed by legal battles over the value of property taken for the rights of way needed for the additional lanes. Once those claims were settled, crews began relocating utilities.

Clay McAlpine, the project superintendent for the engineering firm of Holloway Updike & Bellen, said the York Street project was expected to be completed by January 2014. Recent rains have delayed construction, putting the project about 30 days behind schedule.

Public Works Director Mike Stewart said the contract for the York Street project imposes time constraints for completion. However, bad weather is a factor that might allow some flexibility, he said.

Progress also is being made with the two projects on the city’s northwest side. Stewart said much of that progress is behind-the-scenes work that must be completed before construction can begin.

Stewart said the engineering and design work has been completed for the Martin Luther King Street project, and rights of way are being acquired.

For the 24th Street, project, which was delayed by discussions about sidewalks and a bicycle lane, some engineering and design work remains to be done.

“I still feel like we are on target for those projects,” Stewart said, noting that construction on Martin Luther King Street could begin this summer. “Twenty-fourth Street may be a little late because the design needs to be finished, and that is due simply to the fact we are looking at the possibility of adding that bike lane.”

Assistant City Attorney Matthew Beese said acquisition packets were completed last week and were ready to present to property owners. An appraiser is assessing the parcels needed for the projects.

“Effectively, we are in the process of contacting the landowners and getting the rights of way squared away,” Beese said, noting that many of the necessary parcels are minuscule. “Once those are acquired — and we will be working with landowners to donate some of those — then we will be ready for actual construction.”

A committee that oversees the city’s long-range street improvements program identified South York Street as its priority project. Because funds were directed toward South York Street, the northwestern Muskogee projects were put on hold until funding was secured this past year.

These projects and a five-year pavement maintenance program are being funded by a quarter-cent sales tax approved in 2009 by Muskogee voters. Half of the annual revenue generated from the permanent sales tax — an estimated $1.5 million — was pledged to secure the repayment of the 15-year note, which accrues interest at a fixed rate of 2.55 percent a year.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.