We knew it was coming. The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority approved three rate hikes more than a year ago to help pay for the new turnpikes being built. The OTA board reaffirmed the next phase of the hike at its meeting this week.
We’ll start paying more to take the turnpike in January (and then we’ll have another increase next January). Interestingly, if you pay cash (four quarters) to get on the Turner Turnpike in Luther and take it to Oklahoma City, the rate stays the same at $1, while Pikepass users will pay a nickel more from .80 to .85. OTA spokesman Jack Damrill said “some routes did not go up because they went up more last March and really didn’t meet the threshold to go up again.”
In addition to toll hikes, any talk of the turnpike around here also leads to conversations about progress on the the Eastern Oklahoma County turnpike, the 21-mile stretch of new toll road that will be built to connect the Turner Turnpike to I-40 by the year 2020 (projected). We’ve heard about deals, offers and counter offers, lawsuits, and seen the demolition of houses along the route that roughly follows Luther Road between Peebly and Dobbs.
At Tuesday’s OTA meeting, the Authority Board approved a resolution to pursue acquiring 167 more properties, mostly for the Eastern Oklahoma County toll road.
“The names on the list include the owners of the parcels we have left to buy property from. This does not mean we have not negotiated with them. This just gives us the ability to access the property through condemnation if we can’t negotiate with them or can’t reach a settlement fairly quickly since we have started to let contracts to begin construction on certain areas of the roadway and we may need access to the property before we can finalize negotiations.” said Damrill.
Damrill said OTA expects to reach a negotiated settlement with the majority of those on the list, citing that attorneys representing OTA have only had to take about five percent of the property owners to court thus far.
Court records show OTA involved in at least a dozen eminent domain lawsuits in Oklahoma County. The suits contain verbiage like the following:
Plaintiff has endeavored in good faith to acquire the Property from the Defendant, who is the record owners the same by purchase and have given said Defendant and opportunity to sell the Property, but said Defendant has refused and is unwilling to sell the Property to Plaintiff. By reason thereof, it is necessary, in order for Plaintiff to acquire fee title, less their and other mineral rights but including the right outs and remove any and all roadbuilding materials, to the Property, including, without limitation, all rights of access from the remaining portion of Defendant’s land onto the limited access to turnpike to be constructed on the Property, to exercise its right of condemnation as to the Property. – the lawsuits say.
As part of the condemnation proceedings, the court appoints “three disinterested freeholders of Oklahoma County” who come out to each property and determine a value for the assigned parcel. In one settled case, the freeholders, called Commissioners, awarded one party $160,000 for five acres with a small ranch house and a single-wide mobile home. The commissioners received $250 each.
Sources say that some property owners are getting between $10,000 and up to $13,500 an acre for their properties, although some have settled for less. And some are reportedly demanding a jury trial.
The Driving Forward project was announced with fanfare by politicians at the State Capitol two years ago, but when word filtered out to Eastern Oklahoma County about the proposed route, protests began that included an online petition drive signed by thousands, public meetings and demonstrations, lawsuits and pleading to be heard by any elected official. Two years later, some of the main protestors have moved out of state or out of the area.
The projects are being paid for with the increased tolls, as well as bond sales.