I-235, also known as the Centennial Expressway, opened to traffic in 1989 coinciding with the celebration of the 100 year anniversary of the Land Run of 1889. This new highway quickly became a well-traveled route within the metropolitan freeway system, serving as an important link between northern and southern portions of the Oklahoma City area.
Even though I-235 was by all accounts beneficial to the car-commuting citizens of the metro area, it was devastating to the already-fragile urban neighborhoods though which it passed, including Deep Deuce. Both the mainline interstate as well as multiple cloverleaf ramps devoured large swaths of neighborhoods and turned them into a soulless stretch grass and concrete. While a boon for drivers, this 5.4 mile freeway ultimately severed the northeast portion of the inner-city from the rest of downtown.
At the time the freeway was constructed, downtown was all but dead and the loss of these neighborhoods was of little concern. However, as the renaissance and redevelopment of downtown Oklahoma City continues, the barrier created by I-235 becomes more distinctive and the underutilized land becomes more attractive to development. Eventually the presence of the interstate and the redevelopment goals of downtown Oklahoma City will reach the point of incompatibility and will necessitate a solution.
In many similar cases, removal is the ideal solution to problematic urban freeways. However in this case, since the highway is relatively new and neither functionally nor structurally obsolete, it would be difficult to make a case for complete removal in the near future. Maintaining the existing freeway, while restoring connectivity and encouraging development represents a significant challenge. It is this challenge that the Centennial Park concept attempts to solve.
The Centennial Park concept is designed to mitigate the negative effects of the highway by constructing a new park over the below-grade portion of the interstate. By limiting the park to between 13th Street and 4th Street, the existing highway would remain as-is with only ramp modifications. The elimination of the cloverleaf ramps, would open much of the existing right-of-way to development.
Red – University. In addition to meeting the needs of the Oklahoma School of Science and Technology, an expanded campus could house multiple branch campuses of existing universities or a completely new downtown university.
Orange – Parkside Neighborhood. This neighborhood would be a blend of residential, mixed-use, & commercial uses, similarly to the current development trends in the immediate area.
Blue – Research Park. This area would be an extension of the current research park and consist of primarily office and laboratories. There could be opportunities for other, accessory uses in this area.
Purple – Deep Deuce. Since this neighborhood is nearing completion, any new residential and mixed-use buildings would be either infill or occupy former highway ramp right-of-way.
A few items of special note:
- The current ramps at 10th Street would be eliminated and new ramps would be constructed to and from I-235 at 13th Street.
- The circular area of Stiles Park would be converted to a roundabout with the Beacon of Hope remaining in the center.
- The intersection of 6th Street, Harrison Ave., and Walnut Ave. would be converted to a roundabout.
- Harrison Ave. would be extended under the railroad tracks south of 4th Street and into a new roundabout at EK Gaylord and 3rd Street tying the Central Business District directly to the northeast portions of downtown.
- The elevation of the highway at the 4th Street bridge, would require a mound of earth to cover the highway in this area. The would create a promontory overlooking the downtown skyline.
- The cloverleaf would be replaced by a linear on-ramp from 4th Street. This would free up additional land for further Deep Deuce development.
- 2nd street would be extended from The Hill under I-235 (in place of the former cloverleaf) and connect with Lincoln Boulevard. It would continue under the off-ramp and reconnect in the JFK neighborhood.
- Lindsay Ave. would be extended under I-235 and into a new roundabout at Sheridan and Lincoln.