By JOSH NEWTON
Officials at Northeastern State University say they could consider asking for permission, in the years to come, to close Grand Avenue through campus, but for now, discussion is meant only as feedback.
Talk of the closure surfaced last week during a community meeting as NSU sought input on a long-range master plan. Some students and employees of the university said Grand Avenue often poses a safety concern to those who must walk across the road.
The section of Grand Avenue that separates buildings like the fine-arts facility to the west and the University Center to the east has a number of crosswalks and one traffic light to assist pedestrians in trying to cross the road, but those don’t always help.
NSU Vice President of Operations Tim Foutch said Monday that there is no current plan to close Grand Avenue.
“There has been just general discussion, over a period of time,” said Foutch. “Obviously for us to even give that any legitimate thought, traffic studies and other true feasibility studies would have to be done.”
Foutch said previous city of Tahlequah administrators believed Grand Avenue to be part of State Highway 82, so he would expect university officials to have to deal with the state rather than local government.
But Tahlequah Mayor Jason Nichols said city officials have long assumed the streets inside the bypasses are city roads rather than state highways – an assumption confirmed by a state highway official Monday.
Cole Hackett, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, said Grand Avenue has been designated as a city street since bypasses were constructed around Tahlequah.
“It was, at one point, State Highway 82 going through the middle of town, but now there are the [S.H.] 82 bypasses, so 82 just follows the bypasses,” said Hackett. “It [Grand] is no longer a state highway that runs through town; it’s officially a city street now.”
Foutch said if the closure of Grand Avenue continues to be a topic of discussion over the next two to three years, the university may run the idea “up the flag pole” to see what becomes of the issue. Other matters to consider would be alternate routes and the effects of the rerouting; signage; and budgets, he said.
Some who participated in last week’s forum on the university master plan suggested a pedestrian bridge or tunnel could be built across Grand Avenue as an alternative to its closure.
Nichols said he’s a fan of innovative ideas, though if it’s ever a serious consideration, the city and university would have to discuss who pays for the project.
“I’m never opposed to talking about these kinds of unusual ideas, but I have to admit I don’t know how it would be feasible” to close Grand Avenue, Nichols said.
He also expects the university and city could run into some confusion as to property ownership and rights-of-way along Grand Avenue.
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