January 5, 2012

What does the new I-40 Crosstown mean for arts and culture?

It was an historic day in Oklahoma City as the eastbound lanes of the new I-40 Crosstown opened for traffic. Costing nearly $700 million, it is the largest road construction project in the state's history.

Click here to read the NewsOK article highlighting who was there and who spoke.

Most striking were the words of Neal McCaleb, former director of transportation for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. He recalled his days as a young engineer more than 50 years ago and the brief exposure he had with planning and construction of the old I-40. His words reminded me of how short life is; how quickly new things become old and how important it is to plan for the future.

As we ponder what this amazing road will mean for Oklahoma, it's hard not to think about the most famous road in the world, Route 66, and all it meant and continues to mean for our nation. From the Coleman Theater in Miami and Cain's Ballroom in Tulsa to 66 Festival in Bethany and the Route 66 Museum in Clinton, the Mother Road has also had special meaning for Oklahoma.

During the devastating Dust Bowl of the 1930s, Route 66 served as a major path for those migrating west. Today's celebration brought with it the promise of a new road and ever-increasing migration back to Oklahoma. For arts and culture, particularly, the wine just seems to grow sweeter with each passing year.

Where will the new I-40 Crosstown take us, not just physically, but economically and culturally? Without a doubt, this new stretch of road holds tremendous significance for the primary sector of the economy (production of raw materials and basic foods) as well as the secondary sector (manufactured, finished goods). But, what about the quaternary sector, the sector that includes arts and culture? Does the I-40 Crosstown impact us, too?

U.S. Representative James Lankford (R-Oklahoma), addresses the crowd gathered to celebrate the new I-40.

Of course it does! In the simplest of terms, the new highway means more movement throughout Oklahoma City: more visitors, more tourists, more pride, more ideas, more opportunities, more commerce. All of these things, individually and collectively, will help strengthen the creative economy and help create more creative jobs in Oklahoma.

The Skydance Pedestrian Bridge, fashioned after the Oklahoma Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, spans the new I-40.