Critics of an Oklahoma turnpike expansion plan urge an oversight council to deny a request for bonds. (Photo by Mindy Ragan Wood/Oklahoma Voice)
OKLAHOMA CITY — An oversight council gave the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority the green light Monday to seek millions in bonds for toll road projects despite criticism and an ongoing lawsuit.
The Council of Bond Oversight approved the agency’s application for $500 million in bond funds for its $5 billion, 15-year long-range ACCESS turnpike expansion plans. OTA will use the funds to enhance the existing toll road network statewide and construct new turnpikes to complete a loop around the Oklahoma City metro area.
The council, which reviews state agency applications for bonds and other financing requests, voted 3-1, but told OTA that a pending lawsuit challenging the legality of the project must first be resolved.
Residents in the path of two new toll roads in the Norman area, asked the council to deny the agency’s request, citing an ongoing lawsuit in a letter to the council.
Amy Cerato, a member of Pike Off OTA, which opposes a new toll road in Cleveland County, said she was “disappointed” by the outcome.
Tim Gatz, state transportation secretary and OTA director, said the agency takes residents’ concerns seriously as they move forward on proposed projects to enhance safety.
“It’s my job, and our job, to make sure that we’re looking to the future and provide the transportation system that Oklahomans are going to need,” he said.
More than 200 property owners filed two lawsuits against OTA in May 2022, three months after the agency announced its plans.
They accused the agency of violating the Open Meeting Act when OTA announced ACCESS in February that same year. They also filed a second lawsuit alleging the turnpikes weren’t included in a state law which authorizes new toll road projects.
In both cases, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled for the agency, but a petition to ask justices to reconsider the ruling in the latter lawsuit remains pending.
In addition to two new toll roads in the Norman area, the ACCESS project will widen several turnpikes, including the Turner Turnpike from Oklahoma City to Bristow. The project will also add new interchanges along some of the state’s outdated rural turnpike networks.
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