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Wellston Businesses Plan to Survive Year-Long Rt 66 Closure

Bison Blinds

As a section of the Route 66 Midpoint Corridor in Wellston, Oklahoma gears up for a year-long closure due to a Turner Turnpike bridge widening project, businesses along the iconic route are preparing for the road ahead. Among them is The Butcher Bbq Stand, a renowned restaurant and Route 66 hotspot. Despite the impending challenge, owner Levi Bouska and his staff are rolling up their sleeves, ready to navigate the detours and keep serving up their signature smokin’-cue to loyal patrons and hungry travelers.

Put another rack on the Smoker.

Remember when the Butcher Stand opened in 2015? It was an actual stand with no indoor seating in a primo location on Route 66 in Wellston. Opening it was Levi’s dream come true. Then, just like now, hungry customers and adventure seekers lined up hours ahead of opening time on the weekends and were giddy to wait for the payoff of a platter of delicious ribs, brisket, sausage, sides, and the signature Twinkie for dessert. The Bouska family’s smoking dynasty of world championship barbecue became a destination. Less than a decade later, the Stand has steadily accommodated the fanbase – adding indoor seating, more parking, a covered patio, live music, catering, Uncle Mark’s bar, and appearances by Daisy Mae’s Shaved Ice Creamery food truck.

The Butcher Stand’s growth model didn’t include Route 66 being closed for a year, making Levi nervous but determined. “I gotta stay open! I have my family and 10 other employees and families that depend on that place!”

The $48 million Oklahoma Turnpike Authority bridge project will shut down the road just to the east of the Butcher Stand, keeping open the flow of westward travelers from Luther, Arcadia, Edmond, Oklahoma City, or all of the way to Santa Monica, where Rt 66 begins (or ends). But travelers, commuters, and locals driving the other way from Chandler, Davenport, Stroud, Depew, Bristow, Sapulpa, Tulsa, or Chicago where Rt 66 ends (or begins) will meet a detour on the Wellston approach. The state’s official detour is about 30 scenic miles through Jacktown and Harrah (SH177 – SH62 – SH102) to keep motorists, including RVs and semis, on a path that doesn’t feature one-lane bridges, dirt roads, or dead ends. The unofficial detour is a lot shorter if you know the backroads. Or you could get on the turnpike in Wellston and exit at Luther/Jones to backtrack. Even if you don’t have a PikePass or spare change, no worries; the OTA will photograph your tag and send you a bill for the toll through the new PlatePay system.

State and local dignitaries, including Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell, Wellston Mayor Paul Whitnah, OTA Executive Director Joe Echelle and ODOT Executive Director Tim Gatz, and OTA Board members John Jones and Todd Cone, broke ground Tuesday on a $48 million bridge reconstruction project on the I-44/Turner Turnpike over SH-66 in Wellston. They provided provided by OTA.

In a news release from the OTA recounting its Tuesday event when VIPs posed with shovels for the project’s ceremonial groundbreaking photo, Lt. Gov Matt Pinnell said, “We’re off the most famous road in the entire world, and it is such an economic driver for the state of Oklahoma. Over half of all sales tax collected in Oklahoma is off the Route 66 road. It’s that much more important for our transportation department and turnpike authority to be partnering together to make sure that we can make that safe and make it a very good experience for our tourists and, yes, absolutely for the four million people who live right here in Oklahoma.”

Sales Tax Funds Towns

Speaking of sales taxes and Rt 66 tourists who explore and spend and might check “avoid tolls” on their trip maps, Wellston’s April 2024 collections were $45,000, no doubt fueled by the Butcher Stand, Bev’s Travel Center/OnCue Express, a Dollar General, and businesses along Main Street like Mossy’s Milk Soapery. Comparing April 2024 sales tax revenues to other nearby Route 66 towns like Luther ($58,000), Arcadia ($96,000), and Edmond ($6.8 million), there’s not a lot of budget wiggle room for a municipality like Wellston to provide services if the state’s road closure hurts local businesses. 

So, let’s not let that happen! On the other side of this bridge project, promised to be completed by the Route 66 Centennial in 2026, the famous 66 will be safer and the road is ripe for our sales tax-generating small businesses to flourish. 

“Yeah, I’m very, very nervous. I just hope that people won’t mind just taking a little detour to get to us. We’re about to blow up social media about the BBQ detour,” said Levi Bouska. 

Trust your butcher! Follow the Butcher Barbecue Stand on its website, Facebook (32,000 followers), and Instagram (8,000 followers), or read the 1,500 reviews on Google.

What’s going to happen when Rt 66 is closed for a year?

From the OTA news release, ACCESS Oklahoma’s long-range plan is to widen the entire 90 miles of the I-44/Turner Turnpike to six lanes, and this 1-mile project is one component of that corridor improvement.

Other critical aspects of the project, awarded in September 2023 to Sherwood Construction Co. of Tulsa, include:

  • I-44/Turner Turnpike traffic will remain open to two lanes in each direction throughout the project. However, turnpike traffic will be shifted by late summer onto a temporary detour that will cross SH-66 at ground level. This means that SH-66 will be closed to thru-traffic between US-177 and SH-102 for up to a year to accommodate the temporary detour.
  • A new westbound I-44/Turner Turnpike off-ramp will be constructed, moving the ramp slightly to the west of its current location. Motorists can expect the on- and off-ramps to SH-66 to generally remain open during the project by may be intermittently narrowed.
  • SH-66 will be constructed to accommodate future widening to four lanes and will feature 6-foot sidewalks underneath the new bridge.
  • The nearby commuter parking lot will be moved to the east and reconstructed to improve access from SH-66 and improve safety for commuters.
  • Local motorists needing to access SH-66 between US-177 and SH-102 will have a signed detour while those exiting I-44/Turner Turnpike will detour to US-177 to US-62 to SH-102 to SH-66. 
  • The completed bridge will have four retaining walls, each featuring Route 66-themed artwork, created in partnership with the Oklahoma Arts Council.
  • On average, more than 31,000 vehicles travel this section of the I-44/Turner Turnpike daily. By 2053, it’s estimated that more than 55,000 vehicles per day could travel this section.

Starting by the later summer of 2024, local motorists needing to access SH-66 between US-177 and SH-102 will have a signed detour, while those exiting I-44/Turner Turnpike who want to reach the west side of SH-66 will detour to US-177 to US-62 to SH-102 to SH-66.

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