CommunityOpinionPoliticsRoute 66Submitted ArticleTurnpike

Saving the Farm and Fighting (Another) New Turnpike

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Guest Column by Deanna Atkinson

After 40 years of marriage, Gary and I were finally able to fulfill our lifelong dream of owning a farm in 2021. We looked for many years until we found 50-acres in Newalla. It was close enough to Oklahoma City for commutes to work but zoned agricultural for our sideline bee business. We were aware of the Kickapoo Turnpike, to the north, but like every other elected official, municipal leaders, and “people-in-the-know,” there was no known plan for a southern extension. All public documents showed future road construction, involving the Kickapoo, to be part of a master plan to develop a loop around OKC, not extend to Purcell.

We found out our property was in Oklahoma Turnpike Authority’s (OTA) crosshairs by a neighbor who saw the press release on Feb. 2, 2022. The proposed southern extension of the Kickapoo shaves off the eastern and southern edges of our farm. On a transactional level, this is somewhat akin to winning the lottery. There’s big money to be made through “property acquisition.” It’s like they’re playing with Monopoly money. Buying out million-dollar homes in Norman, destroying municipal infrastructures, reminds me of Oprah’s, “You get a car, you get a car…”. It’s this type of free-wheeling spending that drives up inflation. Gary and I could make a laundry list of demands, profit from this transaction, and be done. However, our hearts belong to the wildlife that inhabits the natural beauty of our farm. We can return to living in town but what about them?

Deanna and Gary Atkinson’s honey bee farm in Newalla is in a proposed route of the Kickapoo Turnpike south extension.

We could make a laundry list of demands, profit from this transaction, and be done. However, our hearts belong to the wildlife that inhabits the natural beauty of our farm. We can return to living in town but what about them?

Oklahoma is known for its vast open spaces and rural agricultural communities. Turnpikes kill that. They carve up farmland and become impenetrable barriers for wildlife to cross. This “urban sprawl” increases traffic, energy use, and pollution as residents must drive farther in search of housing instead of infilling existing spaces within metropolitan areas. At a time when we need the soils’ ability to capture carbon dioxide, we face the extinction of species, food insecurity, loss of habitat for pollinators, and the need for oxygen the trees produce, bulldozing it all down doesn’t make sense. An observable shift of migration patterns is emerging as wildlife species attempt to outrun encroachment and loss of their native habitats. The endangered whooping crane has been observed by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife at Lake Thunderbird, a body of water threatened by the proposed turnpike. Other avian species have been recently recorded for the first time in Oklahoma.

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READ THE ARCHIVES: TURNPIKE

Arrogant and Untouchable

I agree something needs to be done about the traffic congestion on I-35 south of Oklahoma City. However, I disagree that adding one more toll road is the best solution. OTA seems to be stuck in their 1950s mentality. After all, building toll roads is what they do. It should be noted their mission statement mentions safety. That isn’t necessarily for the residents of Oklahoma. This proposed turnpike is reportedly so truck drivers can drive from Houston to St. Louis faster. While the time savings is still debatable, is that what “we” the residents of Oklahoma want? Sales tax generates revenue on the state and local levels. Do we want truckers to zoom through our state without stopping to spend money? Arkansas’ portion of I-40 is a constricted mess. By whizzing through Oklahoma, truckers will fill up in either Texas or Arkansas where there are traffic delays because they know they can make up drive time in Oklahoma, bypassing all of the rural communities the turnpike will cutoff.

OTA rolled out their plan prematurely without environmental impact studies or stakeholder participation. It’s as if they’re so arrogant and untouchable, they threw it out there to see who would complain.

Deanna Atkinson

OTA rolled out their plan prematurely without environmental impact studies or stakeholder participation. It’s as if they’re so arrogant and untouchable, they threw it out there to see who would complain. My dad always said, “Squeaky wheel gets the grease” and they’ve got lots of that Monopoly money to grease wheels with. Our national population growth rate is declining, 2021 had the lowest since the founding of the United States. If we’re building this road not for truckers but for citizens, then let’s take a more progressive approach that doesn’t cost $5 billion.

Gary Atkinson's bee hive

Gary Atkinson’s 42 beehives are home to three million honey bees. According to the USDA, dramatic honey bee population decline was likely attributable o a wide range of stressors such as … habitat loss.

Options Include Better Rural Internet

Here are some options. Increase the capacity of exits along the I-35 corridor (such as Exit 106 at the Riverwind Casino). If commuters could get off I-35 easier, we wouldn’t have so many backups. If our state had better Internet availability, maybe some of those commuters would be able to work from home during traditional commute times. Why abandon rail or light rail as an option? Since our highway designers strive to be like Texas, why don’t we expand the existing artery of I-35 to include a toll lane. Or wait, let’s see what the recent widening of Choctaw Road and Highway 9 does to increase traffic flow. If we finished some of the road projects we currently have underway (like the construction east of I-35 on I-40), maybe we wouldn’t have traffic congestion problems at all?

Speaking of current road projects, there are only so many construction workers, construction companies, state and private consulting company employees available. The graying of America (aka retirement of Baby Boomers) has left us with a worker shortage nationwide. By adding another 147 miles of new construction to our plate, are we going to have to live with torn-up roads for eternity? When road use and toll collections don’t pan out as planned, will the bondholders take over collection of the tolls? When that happens, it’ll be the citizens of Oklahoma paying to maintain the existing 606 miles of toll roads, plus the proposed 147 miles, in addition to all the other state non-toll roadways we have.

The taking of one’s homestead, livelihood, personal freedoms, is the largest example of government overreach there is. This isn’t coming from Washington, DC. This is coming from our own elected officials, our own state agencies.

Deanna Atkinson

Due to all these concerns, we’ll be doubling down to stay on the farm. We’re expanding our bee business and continuing to be good stewards of the land and its wildlife inhabitants. Our 50 acres provide sanctuary to reptiles, amphibians, mammals, fish, birds, and invertebrates native to Oklahoma. We’ll protect its indigenous flora; we have trees older than Oklahoma’s statehood. I hope we’re able to bind together as Oklahomans and put our own citizens’ best interests ahead of out-of-state bondholders and profiteers. The taking of one’s homestead, livelihood, personal freedoms, is the largest example of government overreach there is. This isn’t coming from Washington, DC. This is coming from our own elected officials, our own state agencies. We need our elected officials to represent their constituents’ best interest and say “no” to the turnpike, and “no” to the OTA.

To learn more about the Atkinson Farm, subscribe to GEEZBEES YouTube Channel and like their Facebook page, Atkinson Farm.

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