“Is it a done deal that we’re going to build it? Absolutely it’s going to happen.”
Oklahoma Transportation Secretary Gary Ridley’s comment brought thunderous jeers at the public hearing Thursday night regarding the controversial Eastern Oklahoma County turnpike loop adjoining Interstate I-40 to the Turner Turnpike (I-44) – a path that could potentially affect some of the hundreds of folks who turned out for the meeting. Even though the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority’s maps emphasized the turnpike path only spans 300-feet for the actual toll road, it’ll span about 20 miles to link the two major interstates.
The hearing was a mea culpa by the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority. Ridley said, “we screwed up,” when apologizing to the overflow crowd regarding the lack of communication about the project.
There was a prayer to start the meeting, and the first speaker was Oklahoma Congressman Steve Russell. Like he did at the January OTA meeting, the first-term Republican demanded that OTA prove a public need for the project rather than just push an economic wish. Still, he said he’s ready to possibly lose his quiet rural Choctaw home if it comes to that. It would be for the greater good.
Shawnee State Senator Ron Sharp also got microphone time. See his comments here where he said he’s scared for our state because of the $1 billion state government budget hole that has resulted from the energy slump. So this road would be a boost, especially for Tinker Air Force Base and Boeing which has dumped some of its plans but is still bringing 900 jobs here, he said.
Once public questions were allowed, a Harrah resident asked, “How many people have to show up to prove to you guys … that these people don’t want a turnpike out here?” See the comments here.
No matter. Ridley and the OTA engineers insist the reason for the road is for a reliever route for Oklahoma City traffic to improve safety and to accommodate anticipated growth.
Other questions included whether the road will be able to handle a major earthquake, whether the push for the road is just for money instead of need, why another road can’t be used and whether landowners will indeed get better than fair market value for their properties, if it comes to that.
There were boos and yelling. But the OTA staff was unflappable. OTA Chairman Skip “Kell” Kelly commented that he was not surprised at the number nor the emotion, noting the meeting didn’t attract many EOC supporters.
Public comments were shut down to close out the meeting well before 8 pm. Then a brigade of OTA engineers hosted map tables in the lobby where the crowd dispersed. The large new maps highlight the study area – still roughly between Luther Road west to Triple X from I-40 to I-44. Neighbors were asked to mark the maps with information that aerial photos might not have captured such as cemeteries, horse sanctuaries, flood plains or other notables.
The EOC is a $300 million four-year project, the biggest part of the nearly $1 billion Drive Oklahoma Forward campaign. The road will be paid for with bond sales and through a forecasted 16% hike in the tolls that we will pay to drive on any of the state’s turnpikes, if we choose to drive on them.