The crowd numbered upwards of 150 folks – united in their anger and opposition to not one, but two metro turnpikes to be built as part of the controversial Driving Forward Oklahoma turnpike program. Organized by the Eastern Oklahoma County anti-turnpike coalition, Wednesday’s state capitol anti-turnpike rally also featured neighbors from the other side of the county, those in way of the proposed Southwest Kilpatrick Turnpike extension.
“The farmer is of no importance to the OTA obviously,” said Jayna Gordon whose legacy family farm near Mustang will be sliced to accommodate the extension of the Kilpatrick from I-40 to Airport Road. She told the crowd her family all lives on their 160 acres, the land her grandfather purchased in 1935.
The rally also featured plenty of politicians running for office. State Rep. Richard Morrissette who is making a run for the Oklahoma Corporation Commission told the crowd, “with your voices and your persistence, you will stop this expansion of the turnpike.”
Morrissette also told the crowd it might be time to go to court to seek an injunction against the $300 million EOC, before bonds are sold for the project later this year. If there was the will among the legislature and the Governor, the project could be stopped. However, the current legislative session ends next week – and there’s plenty of budgeting to do before then with an historic revenue failure.
State Sen. Al McAffrey was also at the rally. He represents an inner-city senate district, but is making a run for Congress against incumbent Steve Russell.
McAffrey said even though a special legislative session is imminent, his fellow lawmakers are too passive to touch the turnpike issue. “This group (at the rally) needs to go to ODOT meetings and the media and blast them good. Building turnpikes is not the right thing to do. We don’t need more debt.”
Other candidates speaking at the rally included Frank Volpe of Harrah who is also running for the Fifth Congressional Seat. Volpe told the crowd, “Property rights are what separate America from the rest of the world.”
Balancing a luncheon appointment and a rally appearance, Rep. Lewis Moore, who is running unopposed, carried graphs pointing out the mis-allocation of motor fuels tax distribution. Moore called for a moratorium on all turnpikes. He said of the $1.2 billion the state gets on gas taxes, license fees and titles on vehicles, the OTA gets $44 million. Education gets $261 million. His point is that transportation related taxes aren’t going to transportation in the state, and we have the crumbling bridges and bumpy roadways to show for it. It’s a problem 50 years in the making, he said. Moore doubts his fellow lawmakers will take up this turnpike issue in this particular legislative year, but he calls this turnpike a mistake. “The solution is in the pie,” he said. His graphic pie.
The rally was organized by EOC resident Paul Crouch and others. He said the candidates who joined their protest will have his vote. He also welcomed once and future gubernatorial candidate Gary Richardson who will run on an anti-turnpike platform. He said Oklahoma is second only to Florida in the number of toll road miles in a state. “How long are we going to be fooled by these people,” he asked the crowd who responded in unison, “Stop the Turnpike.”
Even as the turnpike rally proceeded, other EOC residents were checking their mailboxes. Letters from Driving Forward and OTA agent, Olsson Associates arrived today for property owners in the EOC turnpike alignment. The letters asked for survey permission, and included a self-addressed stamped envelope. One resident said the letter offered a choice to return it signed signaling permission to survey, or unsigned signaling permission not to survey. A letter unreturned signals permission given for surveyors to enter private property.