The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority is planning on an early December completion date for a construction project that is building a new toll plaza south of Chickasha.
The project was launched in summer 2016 when the turnpike authority awarded Duit Construction a $14.764 million construction contract to build a modern, high-speed toll plaza 12 miles south of the existing Chickasha toll plaza on the H.E. Bailey Turnpike/Interstate 44, then demolish the old plaza.
Tim Gatz, executive director of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, said the toll plaza was one of two upgrades planned for the toll road that cuts diagonally across southwest Oklahoma to link drivers to Oklahoma City. In addition to rebuilding 7.5 miles of road on the northern end of the H.E. Bailey Turnpike, just south of Oklahoma City, upgrades also were to include a modern toll plaza that will feature high-speed Pike Pass lanes.
Gatz said the projects are important because not only are they providing a modern toll plaza and better roads, those upgrades also will encourage more drivers to use the turnpike (rather than relying on back roads) and that, in turn, would generate more revenue through the tolls those drivers pay.
Jack Damrill, director of communications for the turnpike authority, said the road reconstruction and toll plaza work are part of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority's modernization program called Driving Forward. He said the toll plaza project can be explained simply.
"It's really about safety. That is our No. 1 goal," he said, of the aging toll plaza just outside of Chickasha. "At the Newcastle plaza, they (drivers) go to the outside (lanes) and zip around the cash areas. At this toll plaza, toll and cash customers are all together. It's a dangerous situation. People who want to go highway speed have to slow down. Cash customers are stopping. We've had numerous accidents at the old one."
Engineers solved that problem by changing the configuration of the passing lanes. Damrill said the new toll plaza will put two Pike Pass lanes in the center of the plaza, allowing drivers who have Pike Passes (electronic cards fastened to vehicle windshields) to pass through the plaza without slowing down. Cash customers those who throw their change in the baskets as well as those who need to pay an attendant will be funneled to the right side of the plaza.
"It increases the safety aspect of it, separating the high speed traffic from others," Damrill said, adding that Pike Pass customers approaching the existing toll plaza must slow down to about 30 mph as they pass under the pass readers in the outside lanes, while the new configuration means drivers won't have to worry about "maneuvering around. They're going to notice a huge difference, in travel time and safety."
He said the project reflects the views of drivers, who have made their feelings known to the turnpike authority.