PICKETT — State Highway 19 from Pickett to Gaar Corner is about to undergo a major renovation which will make the road safer for motorists. The Oklahoma Department of Transportation will make the highway safer, but at a large cost, and not just monetary.
Many people who drive the highway often know it needs to be improved. There are no shoulders. There are sharp curves, hills and dangerous intersections. Residents along the highway also know it needs a fix, but for many the fix comes with mixed emotions.
Delton and Lahonda Sutton have owned and run Town and Country Grocery and Station alongside the highway for more than 42 years, but they will soon say good-bye. Good-bye to customers and good-bye to the business they have run since 1971, but they know the highway needs improving.
“Once they get it finished, it will be a big help to Highway 19,” Delton said. “In the 42 years we’ve been here, we’ve seen no telling how many people killed on this little old stretch of highway through here. People just drive too fast, mainly.”
The Suttons have seen a lot over the years.
“When I bought this and first started selling fuel here, it was 18.9 (cents per gallon of fuel),” Sutton said, “and you see where it’s at today.”
The Suttons have weathered many changes, but this one is going to close the business. Delton said the current plan for the widening would run through a major portion of the property where the business lies.
“The present utilities that are in out here, if they move them south, all those utilities would go through my pumps and tanks,” he said. “Therefore, it put us out of business.”
Sutton said negotiations between him, his wife and ODOT are complete. He said ODOT offered to relocate his business and pay the full cost.
“They offered me the opportunity but at my age, I’m not,” Sutton said. “We’re ready to retire. We’ve been trying to sell for a few years, but you can’t find anyone willing to work these kinds of hours anymore, with that kind of money, anyway.”
The store will be purchased by ODOT and demolished by a contrac-tor. Delton said it will be bittersweet, but he and his wife will enjoy retire-ment and probably do some traveling.
A resident who lives along SH 19 — and wished to remain anony-mous— said she doesn’t really like what’s happen-ing but knows it’s for the best.
“We don’t have shoulders along this road and it is a dangerous highway,” she said. “There is no place to pull off and there are a lot of drop offs. If you have to pull off, like if you have a flat or something, it’s a dangerous road. They’re going to put shoulders on it, which will help a great deal for everyone who lives out this way.”
She said she and her husband have seen many wrecks over the years.
“There are a lot of accidents on this highway,” she said. “I live on a curve and there have been, oh, five or six people go through our fence since we’ve lived here, mostly drunks, people just not maintain-ing control of their cars, and a few seeding. I can understand why they need to do it, for my head, but my heart dreads it. They are going to take a lot of my frontal property. I think overall, they’ve been fair as far as com-pensation, except for no monetary compensation for the loss of privacy or the increased level of noise, which is certainly going to impact us.”
She said ODOT is going to straighten highway curves, and she happens to live on a curve. The road fix will bring the highway three times closer to her and her husband’s home.
“I think in the long run, it’s going to be beneficial for everyone out this way,” she said. “It’s just kind of a bitter pill to swallow. We didn’t really want to give up our property, but you know, they have the authority to take it for the common good.”
ODOT can use eminent domain where the state — or other govern-ment entity — has power to seize a resident’s property for the com-mon good, but that person must be compensated to acquire land for the improvements. Julie Russell, resident engineer for the ODOT Field Three Division Office, said residents are compensated at fair market value and eminent domain is a last resort.
She said negotiations with the vast majority of property owners are complete and ODOT has not had to enforce eiminent domain, but they may just have to soon.
“There are two that are likely headed that direction,” Russell said.
The portion of SH 19 due to be renovated — 5.64 miles from Pickett to Gaar Corner — once complete will have shoulders, turn lanes where they are needed. Hills will be shaved and sharp curves will be more blunt.
Russell said lanes will be 12 feet wide with 8-foot-wide shoulders. Turn lanes will be 12 feet wide. Russell said once all property is acquired and utilities are moved, roadwork can begin.
“Right now, roadwork is tentatively scheduled for March of 2014,” Rus-sell said.
“We’re going to build shoeflies, which is temporary pavement that is adjacent to roadways,” Russell said.
Because the project has not yet gone out to bid, ODOT can only estimate at the total cost of the project — just under $22 million.