I have repeatedly been asked by hundreds of residents to provide an update the status of the proposed Bryan Street exchange at I-40. Shawnee historically has hovered around 25,000 residents. Early on, the City had no reason to have any extraordinary need pursue an aggressive growth strategy as it was one of the upper tier cities in the State. As time passed, the City stagnated. Other communities began to grow and we did not. The extraordinary economic development efforts of the late 60’s & early 70’s solidified our manufacturing base and with it that population baseline and began to set the stage for modest growth. Shawnee continued to hover in that population range until relatively late in the century. The Shawnee Mall brought sales tax growth and the need for a more planned approach. It should be noted that both the Kickapoo & the Harrison exits have existed from inception of Interstate 40.
The current saga began 4 mayors ago when Chuck Mills began to entertain the idea of additional exit. He met with ODOT, Phil Tomlinson & Dan Overland, among others to engage ODOT in the process to perform preliminary feasibility. Fast forward a year and a half, after the traffic analysis on I-40 as well as Harrison indicated positive feasibility. Linda Peterson, then mayor, after discussion and concurrence of the City Commission, held an open meeting to discuss the project at Grove School. I was there personally & recall that Truman Carter was then the principal objection, but the vast majority of comments were favorable. During the course of my research I learned that the original improvement of Bryan Street was made, at least in part, with the objective of relieving the traffic on Harrison south of I-40. Had this not been true, ODOT funds could not have been employed in that improvement.
Subsequent to the Grove meeting, in a letter dated 3/22/2010, Sandra Massey, Historic Preservation Officer of Sac & Fox set forth her objection based on adverse affect on active Tribal ceremonial sites. On 4/16/2010, Gary Ridley, Oklahoma Secretary of Transportation contacted Chief Thurman inquiring whether the Sac & Fox would have an interest in participating in any project which might come about. On 4/27/2010, Chief Thurman, in a letter to Dawn Sullivan, ODOT engineer, stated that the project would have “profound adverse impact upon the historical, cultural & traditional practices & activities of the Nation.” On 6/15/2010, Chief Thurman formally expressed his objection on the part of the Tribe to the project.
It is also my understanding, although I do not have copies of the correspondence, that the Tribe expressed their objections to the Federal Highway Commission or to the appropriate other authority resulting in assignment the project to indefinite suspension. I have letters of support of the Sac & Fox objection from the United Keetowah Band of Cherokee & the Kaw Nation. I am not aware of additional letters of support from other tribes.
Chief Rhodes assumed her duties as Principal Chief just prior to the time I began my term. During last part of Wes Mainord’s term as Mayor, the City approached her requesting reconsideration of the tribal position. There was a meeting on August 31, 2016 at Gordon Cooper Vo-Tech to discuss the proposal further. I was not present but I am told Mr. Carter expressed his desire to move the exit to Brangus Road. It was never clear to me how an exit at Brangus Road would create a lesser impact on tribal property or activities, but that discussion is probably not germane to today’s discussion. It should be stated that existing traffic studies still do not support an exit @ Brangus, Leo or Acme. It is further my understanding the proposed improvements do not intrude on tribal lands, per se, but that the actual property affected is allotted lands held for the benefit of individual tribal members.
ODOT has allocated $1.3M of funding to the next step in the feasibility study. . Our precise request is that the Tribe withdraw their objection allowing the feasibility process to move forward. I emphasize that this is merely a step in the process, & that final determination would depend upon the subsequent concurrence of the Tribe & the successful completion of feasibility engineering & ODOT’s authorization, which at this point is not assured. With the assistance of ODOT & Senator Sharp, we were recently successful in arranging a meeting with the Business Committee who I am told makes the final decision in these matters. That meeting was cordial & involved an open exchange of ideas, as have been all of the meetings I have attended. It was noted that withdrawal of the letter of objection merely allows further engineering to occur. It in no way constitutes final approval of the Tribe. After that meeting, we were told we would have an answer to our request in 2 weeks after the next regularly scheduled Business Committee meeting. I am told the matter was tabled at that meeting. As an addendum to my actual comments at the City Commission meeting, at least in my mind, this discussion is not a battle between the City & the Tribe. Every meeting that I have attended has been cordial & business like. There have been no raised voices. That is not to say that I have not presented our preferences, I think clearly, strongly & respectfully. Mr. Carter has done the same. The discussions have been both frank & fair. There is no absence of trust or understanding, as far as I can see, on either side. In the final analysis, this boils down simply to a decision to be made. We will live with whatever that decision is & so will the Tribe. I cannot & will not speak to the impact on culture, customs or history; that is for their consideration. What I do feel strongly about is that this exit will enhance both the Tribe's & the City's economic future for decades to come. The tradeoffs inherent in their internal debate is their decision to make, and theirs alone. The City Commission's obligation is to plan the City's growth in a sensible & orderly fashion, & the geographical area of that growth is fundamental to our planning. We will employ whatever resources & relationships that we can bring to table for the betterment of our community and all of its stakeholders.
There is an 8 year plan update meeting of ODOT on Sept 10. It is entirely possible that failing receipt of permission from the Nation, that this project may not remain on the plan. If it does not, it is entirely thru the inaction of the Sac & Fox Nation that it will fail this threshold test.
My reasoning as to why this project is of such vital interest to Shawnee lies solely on the grounds of economic development. The City relies entirely on sales tax receipts to fund operations & improvements. We estimated that 70% of our sales tax receipts derive from north of MacArthur Street. It is fairly obvious where the bulk of our growth will occur. It is true that we are working very hard to revitalize the central city area, and there are plans in place which with significantly improve the south end of the City. There remains however low hanging fruit in an area where we have infrastructure to support additional growth without a substantial extension of sewer, water, et al. That area is south of I-40 along Bryan, west of Bryan through Kickapoo. That area represents a potential impactful inventory of commercial development. The addition of areas to the north of I-40 would provide potentially decades of projects to improve the community & provide the needed sales tax base to support the growth which, if we are smart, is surely to come. I make no apologies for my vision of the future and the role which economic development plays in that future; and I sincerely hope that our Tribal partners will play a huge role that future.