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More Lanes Being Added to Elgin On-Ramp

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ELGIN Okla_ Drivers who use the on or off ramps on I-44 near Elgin will soon have a much smoother and safer drive.

Drivers who use the ramps told 7News they felt the design was dangerous. In fact, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol said they've had seven accidents on the ramps since the project started last July. The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority's Jack Damrill said the project experienced a "perfect storm" of events in regards to design, construction and weather that caused numerous delays. He said they're now working overtime to finish some extra lanes to make those ramps more efficient.

It's because of elgin's rapid growth. Damrill said 13 years ago, those ramps only handled about 1,500 cars a day. Wednesday, they handle about 3,500. He said it's one of the highest growth rates the OTA has ever seen. He said once they realized they had to expand, they had to think about several ways to tackle the over $2.8M project, while accommodating drivers and the surrounding cities.

Damrill spoke very candidly about some of the problems his department were forced to deal with on this stretch of highway.

"We admit that there is some fault in some of the design areas that we had," Damrill said. "Could some of the designs have been better? Or course, it can always be better. Again, when you're dealing with this amount of traffic, it's not easy putting 3,500 people or vehicles a day through a small chute like we're doing. We had a narrow area, and one of the problems is that it's connected to a four-lane state highway system that has a lot of vehicles on it as well."

It's a situation that Captain George Brown said is a typical backdrop for accidents, including the seven wrecks that troopers have worked on these ramps.

"People are going out past the barrel, stopping, and looking left and right," Brown said. "They're then doing a secondary stop left and right, and then the vehicle behind them runs into that vehicle. Word to the behind is anticipate that stop, traffic control such as construction zones, and know that vehicle in front of you may have to stop abruptly."

Damrill said the authority considered several options on how to build the new ramps, including closing down the existing ramps to work on the project.

"That would have forced us to put the traffic into these smaller cities and towns," Damrill said, "And they just don't have the police force to accompany that much traffic. It was not a viable option."

Ultimately, they decided to work on the ramps while allowing traffic around the construction. Something he said may be a hassle for now, but will be well worth once it's done.

"People will not see the delays that occurred before," Damrill said, "And while we were under construction, because then we only had one lane. That meant that if you were a Pike Pass customer, you had to wait for the cash customer to pay and get through. Now that we've added a Pike Pass lane as well as a cash lane, people are going to be able to breeze through that lane."

Damrill said crews will be working throughout the weekend to have the new ramps open by next week.

Drivers say they're excited to hear that the new design will be much more efficient.

"That's awesome, great," Elgin resident Rachel Keahbone said. "Not only do I travel it on the daily, having to tell my nieces to watch out, be cautious and just to worry, but that will help our community out a lot. There have been a lot of wrecks here lately."

"Any improvement is good for drivers and consumers," Russell Brownlee said. "It helps the economy. If it's easy on, easy off, people have a tendency to get off and utilize their stores."

Until the project is completed, the highway patrol and the turnpike authority urge drivers to be cautious along that stretch of highway.

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