Officials with Catoosa, Oklahoma, will meet with Oklahoma Department of Transportation officials later this month over a proposal to close a Route 66 exit from westbound Interstate 44.
However, ODOT officials, according to The Daily Progress in nearby Claremore, Oklahoma, the proposal is one of several from years ago and is not finalized.
They will host a town-hall meeting with ODOT at 6 p.m. Jan. 17 at the Catoosa Community Center (map here) about the plan to close the Route 66 exit from westbound I-44. ODOT would replace it with a “Texas turnaround,” or U-turn, at the 193rd Street off-ramp so travelers then could reach Route 66 from eastbound I-44.
Naturally, Catoosa officials worry about losing a key off-ramp from a major east-west interstate to their town.
The Catoosa Chamber of Commerce has expressed concerns about the proposed plan and stated in correspondence they are “opposed to any plan that diverts traffic away” from the city or “that could possibly have a detrimental impact” on the economy, as well as an adverse impact on Verdigris and Claremore, further north on Route 66.
Jeri Koehler, director of Claremore Economic and Industrial Authority, said, “It’s important to the city of Claremore that safety remain a top priority in transportation decisions.
“We expect whatever solution is derived to have adequate Route 66 signage for tourism traffic while ensuring the commuters have clear access to the 412/I-44 exchange.”
Koehler noted there have been a few concerns raised from businesses along Route 66 about a potential negative impact from the proposed interchange. “Route 66 traffic impacts businesses in Claremore,” she said.
ODOT spokeswoman Kenna Mitchell said there’s been a misunderstanding.
In correspondence Wednesday Mitchell wrote, “There was a discussion with the City of Catoosa to update them on our plans in the area. As background we shared with them some of the ideas that were discussed during the time of the I-44/193rd project planning (from roughly 10 years ago), but these ideas were never finalized nor was a project developed.
“Apparently some took it as current info and that is why we will be joining the city in a meeting next month to clarify and correct that there is not a project programmed for this area, nor is there a final design.”
It seems likely the proposed closing of the Route 66 exit from westbound I-44 was some sort of trial balloon — a tentative idea released to gauge public opinion before committing to it — instead of a fully formed plan.
In ODOT’s defense, interchanges in that area initially were poorly designed and cause a lot of traffic problems. The agency wants to do something about it.
But closing direct access to Oklahoma Route 66 from westbound I-44 seems short-sighted at best. The Route 66 towns of Catoosa, Claremore, Verdigris and Sequoyah all are fast-growing suburbs of Tulsa. Oklahoma Route 66 is the main, toll-free way to get to them. Parts of Route 66 in that area see in excess of 20,000 vehicles a day according to this state map.
Clogging the 193rd Street exit with a growing number of commuters appears misguided, especially when that interchange already teems with Hard Rock Casino customers.
The proposal is a moot point for westbound Route 66 tourists who faithfully stick to the old road. But for westbound travelers wanting to see the Blue Whale in Catoosa, for example, who get on Interstate 44 to make up for lost time, the proposal to cut off access to Oklahoma Route 66 is a recipe for tourist confusion.
Based on the ODOT spokeswoman’s comments and because of the local opposition, the state already is backing away from the idea.
(Excerpt of Google Street View image of Catoosa exit sign to Route 66 from westbound Interstate 44)