We applaud recent efforts that Gov. Mary Fallin and the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority have put into strengthening the state's roadways, specifically the news that central Oklahoma will see the Kilpatrick Extension expanded on its west side and a new turnpike built in eastern Oklahoma County.
The new eastern Oklahoma County turnpike will connect Interstate 40 and the Turner Turnpike near Peebly Road and will bring much-needed transportation options to those in that area. Currently, travelers and commuters who want to drive to either Oklahoma City or Tulsa from nearby towns like Nicoma Park, Choctaw, Harrah and Jones must take small, rural roads and there's no direct route.
Western Oklahoma County has seen strong growth in its population since the Kilpatrick Turnpike was extended and connected to Interstate 40 about 16 years ago, and this should continue as the Kilpatrick expands to connect with Will Rogers World Airport.
Let's offer the same boost to eastern Oklahoma County, which has been isolated from the Oklahoma City metro area for far too long. A new turnpike will enhance that area's economy, keep drivers safer and address future traffic congestion concerns. Those who use the turnpike system and pay the tolls will support the $892 million in turnpike improvements, which won't affect state revenues.
Experts expect the metro area to swell to 1.6 million people by 2040, up from about 1.1 million people today. If we don't plan to address anticipated population growth now, we will face serious traffic gridlock in the future.
These new roads will also protect Oklahoma drivers. From 2005 to 2015, more than 8,000 cars wrecked along Interstate 35 near I-240 and the Fort Smith Junction and along the rural roads between Interstates 40 and 44 and Luther and Henney roads. Forty-eight people have died.
The authority has not yet established the road's alignment. Public meetings begin this month to determine the best route for the new turnpike in eastern Oklahoma County.
Central Oklahoma has seen lot of forward momentum in recent years. We need to keep that drive and stay focused on improving the economy and people's lives in all cities and towns in the county.