By Everett Brazil, III
The Newkirk Herald Journal
NEWKIRK — U.S. Highway 77, north of Newkirk, is a dangerous route for commuters driving to and from the community. Marked with potholes, many drivers are forced to swerve to avoid wheel damage, and a lack of shoulders makes it hard to avoid them at times, along with oncoming traffic. That is about to change, however, as the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) recently awarded a contract for the reconstruction of the road, and work is expected to begin in the spring.
The project has been in the works a number of years, and was finally awarded at ODOT’s Feb. 3 commission meeting. Evans & Associates, of Ponca City, won the bid at $9,346,021.75. They were the only bidder.
City leaders are happy with the awarding, as it makes it a safer route for all motorists on the highway.
“This is a much-needed project. We have several citizens a day who travel on it, to and from Newkirk,” said City Manager Jane Thomas.
Citizens have long known the risks of the highway, especially drivers who use it daily, and conditions can be bad anytime of the year.
“It floods when we get an inch or two of rain, so people are subjected to hydroplaning, and you can’t pass anybody,” Thomas said. “We have people that travel that roar every day, to go to work, and come here.”
The project will begin at First Street in Newkirk, and finish at Gate Road. The road will be completely resurfaced, with new asphalt laid on the route. They will also add 8-ft. shoulders on both sides to make it safe for all drivers.
“They’re adding shoulders, allowing motorists room to recover, if they have a problem on the highway, so it’s a safety factor,” said ODOT Spokesperson Lisa Shearer-Salim. “It will extend to an area that already has shoulders, and we’re going to connect those roads.”
The project is expected to take about a year, which will interrupt traffic as paving continues.
“They will narrow it to one lane at a time, with traffic signals, “Shearer-Salim said. “We want motorists to be aware the speed limit will be lowered.”
Work expect to begin by late spring, and motorists are cautioned to pay attention in the work zone to prevent worker injuries.
“Once work begins, pay attention behind the wheel, and pay attention to slowing down,” Shearer-Salim said. “This has been a long-awaited project, and we’re looking forward to getting these improvements in place for the traffic.”