In October, I had the exciting privilege of standing with Gov. Mary Fallin as she announced the future of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority. This initiative, “Driving Forward: Investing in Oklahoma's Future,” will be transformative for the state. The initiative introduced six large projects, including new turnpike roadways in the heart of Tulsa and eastern Oklahoma County that provide needed safety upgrades, alleviation of current traffic congestion and expanded economic opportunity and workforce development.
One of our most famous Oklahomans, Will Rogers, once said, “Even though you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there.” These are wise words given the status of transportation in our state.
First, it's important to remember that the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority only builds roads that are necessary and approved by the Legislature and Oklahoma Department of Transportation. It's a fee-based system that provides safer and faster travel for Oklahomans and accordingly, about 40 percent of all fees are paid by out-of-state customers. No tax dollars are used to pay for any of the current, as well as future, turnpike projects. Those choosing not to travel the turnpikes don't pay for them. We truly have multiple statewide, regional and national transportation corridors that are vital to our state and the national economy. The OTA plays an important role in seeing that some of these crucial needs are addressed.
Several years ago, when discussions began in earnest about these projects, traffic congestion was a concern, but not nearly what it is today. In Oklahoma City, more than a half-million cars and trucks travel the Interstate 35, I-44 and I-40 intersections daily. As a state, we didn't have the luxury to wait until it becomes a larger issue, or just do small projects one at a time. We needed to have a visionary turnpike transportation project that matches the growth patterns in our state and sets the stage for decades to come.
The addition of routes in Tulsa, southeast Canadian County, and around the Oklahoma City metro area will provide motorists alternative routes to and from work, thus decreasing travel time, improving safety and saving time and money.
These projects aim not only to create safer, less-congested travel for motorists, but also a boom for future economic development as well. Driving Forward will generate thousands of construction jobs and feed into many other industries during the building phase. Real economic growth will occur as added miles of roads allow for easier and quicker access for consumers, giving local commerce a needed boost with new opportunities.
Oklahoma can't afford to sit idle when it comes to improving and expanding its transportation systems. Let's embrace this opportunity to drive investment and move Oklahoma forward today.