State will issue $892 million in bonds; debt will be paid from toll fees
OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma Turnpike Authority officials plan to spend $892 million to improve existing turnpikes and build extensions for two more, Gov. Mary Fallin announced Thursday during a Capitol news conference.
Tying the news to the upcoming Halloween festivities, Fallin said, “This is not a trick. This is a treat.”
The six large-scale projects, including the Turner Turnpike, will be paid for with the issuance of bonds and will not affect the state budget. Planning and preparations for the projects will begin immediately with construction set to begin in the third quarter of 2016, said Oklahoma Transportation Secretary Gary Ridley.
“One of our basic building blocks is quality infrastructure,” said Fallin. “The ‘Driving Forward’ plan is about ensuring safe travel, relieving congestion, to shorten commutes and sustaining economic development for years to come. As Oklahoma’s population grows, it will require a greater commitment to modernizing and improving our transportation infrastructure. Making these investments today will prevent our state from having to respond to a crisis in the future.”
The largest projects, estimated at $300 million each, will affect the Turner Turnpike from Bristow to Tulsa and create a 21-mile northeast Oklahoma County loop. The Turner Turnpike reconstruction will add more lanes and safety features, including lights, on that 22-mile stretch. Fifteen fatalities and 514 wrecks have occurred along that route during the last five years. It also will allow for future creation of truck-specific lanes for quick and safe access, state transportation officials said.
Meanwhile, the northeast Oklahoma County loop will connect Interstate 40 and Interstate 44, creating a drive-time reduction to access Tulsa from the Oklahoma City metro area. It also will alleviate current traffic congestion in the Oklahoma City area.
Another major project is the extension of the Kilpatrick Turnpike with southwest Oklahoma City, increasing access and providing another route to Will Rogers World Airport. The construction will occur between I-40 and Airport Road. The project will consist of seven miles of new construction at a cost of $190 million.
Officials also plan to reconstruct lanes with new safety features on the H.E. Bailey Turnpike while modernizing the toll plaza so PikePass customers will have better access. Cost of the project is $32 million.
Meanwhile, the Tulsa area will benefit from new road construction on the Gilcrease Expressway and reconstruction of the Muskogee Turnpike for 9 ½ miles. The expressway project will connect L.L. Tisdale to I-44 and complete the western loop around the Tulsa metro area. The Muskogee project will be a reconstruction that provides for safety and modernization of the toll plaza. The project will take place between the Creek Turnpike interchange and State Highway 51 near Coweta.
Fallin believes the six projects will benefit anyone who drives the turnpikes, including local residents and tourists.
“We want well maintained roads and bridges,” she said. “No one wants their children or spouse to be unsafe. Travelers and tourists want to get places on time. It’s essential we continue to look forward. We want to do for our turnpikes what we’ve done for our bridges.”
The governor also called the turnpike plan a chance to transform the Oklahoma economy now instead of waiting for an emergency to occur.
“If we don’t start planning, we’ll have major problems. Businesses could choose not to locate in Oklahoma if we don’t improve our system,” she said.
Fallin made her desire for a better turnpike system known to transportation official early in her first term.
“She wants us to provide a system that meets the demands of the customers we serve,” Ridley said. “And, she wants us to keep the tolls as low as possible.”
Ridley said it’s likely toll fees will be reassessed sometime in 2017 or 2018, but did not provide an estimate for a proposed increase. Pressed further by reporters about potential increases, Ridley said it would be a modest increase and would probably be less than the last hike in toll fees. The last increase was 16 percent in 2011.
Turnpike Authority Chairman Kell Kelly said it’s likely new businesses could locate along the turnpike projects.
“Businesses have grown up along these turnpikes and we know infrastructure drives economic development,” he said. “It’s a great visionary movement by the governor.”
Fallin recalled a time when the Kilpatrick Turnpike was built and businesses were nowhere to be found in that area.
“I was a legislator when that was built and thought then, ‘what are they doing?’ Now, just look at it. Businesses are everywhere,” she said.
Transportation officials also mentioned the possibility that Tax Increment Finance districts could be developed along the construction routes so cities in those areas could benefit.
Request For Proposals will be sent to highway construction companies before the end of next week so the planning can begin. Ridley said the goal of transportation officials is to complete 80 to 90 percent of the projects in the next three years.
“They will be in different stages of development and four of them will require additional right-of-way,” he said.
Those projects include the Turner Turnpike, the Kilpatrick extension and the eastern Oklahoma County loop. Officials intend to conduct public meetings for those projects and “build where there is the least impact” on residents and businesses.
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