Do you remember where you were when you heard a new turnpike was going to be built in Eastern Oklahoma County? It was in late 2015. The Luther Register had just launched, and naively, we thought the “buy-in” had already been won for the landowners along the 21-miles of the proposed toll road.
Nope. Soon we found out that not only were landowners not on board, they would mount a fight that included rallies at the State Capitol, heated public hearings in which the then-Transportation Secretary said “it’s a done deal,” and lawsuits that would lead to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
OTA won all of the fights. The $400-million road will open on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. The toll road begins on the north end on the Turner Turnpike in Luther, although there is no way to get on it with no on-ramp in Luther, only a high-speed interchange between the turnpikes. It snakes south winding back and forth across Luther and Peebly Roads. The whole road will not open on Tuesday, but you can ride it to the exit at Britton Road, or to the exit on 23rd Street. Eventually, the Kickapoo Turnpike will go all of the way to I-40.
From the archives
The construction proceeded along with negotiations to acquire the property along the route. Some landowners took the offer from OTA; some went to court. Many are still in court, and we hear that some still await money and settlements from OTA who took their land to build the road.
The process was a study in “eminent domain,” property owners’ rights, toll collection and bonding and the heady issue of “the greater good.”
On the other hand, that new road is an engineering marvel and will save us time. Its construction provided jobs and perked up the local economy in Luther with support of local businesses, and sales tax revenue.
Part of the road opens on Oct. 13. It’s the part between the Turner Turnpike to Highway 62 (23rd Street) dumping out right between Harrah and Choctaw. The rest of the road will open sometime later taking motorists, allowed to drive 80 mph along much of the route, to I-40.
Signs announcing the opening of the turnpike began appearing this week, and was a surprise to neighbors who thought they might get a more personal and courteous heads up when the time came to open the toll road.
Luther Mayor Jenni White heard about it from the town over, and took to Facebook about it.
Jenni White, Mayor of Luther, Oklahoma
Tuesday, October 6, 2020
Good evening! I love being positive – it’s so much more fun than finding fault – but something happened today that made me unhappy. Today I found out that no one at the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority notified any of us here in the government of Luther about the opening of the Kickapoo Turnpike that runs through the south end of our Town.FB POST
An opening which is to occur virtually at 11 am next Tuesday. With so many land owners displaced and so much frustration surrounding the manner in which this Turnpike was developed in this area, I would have thought there might be an opportunity for OTA to make Luther feel as though we’re more than just land waiting to be paved, yet it seems that’s not the case. This situation actually upset me enough to send an email to the head of the OTA, Tim Gatz, and other members of the OTA. I have copy and pasted the email I sent, below.
Good afternoon to all,
I thought I’d email this afternoon after finishing a call with our County Commissioner and finding out, through Mayor Poland of Jones City, that a (virtual) Ribbon Cutting will be held for the Kickapoo Turnpike, Tuesday, October 13. Unfortunately, I was completely unaware of this activity. Neither was anyone in Town government contacted to assist with the video regarding the opening – another activity of which I was completely ignorant. In fact, I was so surprised by Mayor Poland’s education on the topic/s, I quickly searched my inbox to make sure I hadn’t accidentally missed announcement of such an auspicious occasion and found no record of any contact. Truly, I am quite sad that somehow – after all the Kickapoo construction which occurred within our Town – we were not provided an opportunity to be included in the upcoming celebration. Though our municipality was not granted an off-ramp, the roadway does bisect our community and holds meaning and hope for our future. While Luther is a small community, we aim high and work well with our Eastern Oklahoma County Partners and would have been pleased to share in its opening.
Town of Luther, Oklahoma
Mayor White later posted OTA staff reached out to her and she hustled to OTA headquarters on Wednesday to record something to represent Luther for the “virtual ribbon cutting” video to be held on Tuesday before the toll gates open.
Meanwhile, OTA Director Tim Gatz will hold a media only event on Friday at the new Britton Road toll booth. It’s the only exit on the northern route; it spills onto the quiet countryside of crops, cattle and rural life. He’ll answer our questions, so please give yours in the comments below.
Fast Facts about the Kickapoo Turnpike
- Kickapoo Turnpike connects Turner Turnpike (I-44) and I-40
- $400 million – paid with tolls and bonds
- 21 miles
- Exit at Britton Road
- No exit in Town of Luther
- Partially opens Oct 13 between I-44 and 23rd Street
- County reports $4 million in road damage
Although the toll road is fresh and new, all the roads that served as a path for the heavy construction equipment to build it, and for residents to get to their homes, are in poor shape. Most of those paths are roads in the unincorporated areas of Oklahoma County, and maintained by the county.
During a Town Hall meeting on Wednesday evening, Oklahoma County Commissioner Carrie Blumert said the county remains in a dispute with OTA over road repair costs.
Blumert said while she is excited for the toll road to open, especially for employees of Tinker Air Force Base, the nearly five-year construction has taken a toll on surrounding roads.
“We have experienced a lot of damage along those roads. We feel it is the OTA’s responsibility to reimburse us. Their offer of only $1.8 million; doesn’t even come close to dealing with the road repairs,” she said. “So we are still working with OTA to get money we feel we deserve. Until then, we will do what we can.”
She said two repair jobs are in the works: a mile stretch on Peebly Road between Memorial Road and 164th; and also a 4.2 mile stretch on Memorial Road from Hiwassee to Memorial Road. She said that the county’s roads and bridges are funded through gasoline taxes collected by the county.
Blumert said the estimated $4 million in damage is likely an underestimate, “that was our original ask to OTA. They came back with $1.8 million and would not budge. Not sure if they didn’t have funds or there’s another reason. We will keep pressing them. It really is OTA’s responsibility to help pay for that.”