Oklahoma welcome sign

Oklahoma welcome sign

(The Center Square) - The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority agreed Thursday to seek up to $1 billion in bonds for a turnpike expansion opposed by residents.

The bonds must be approved by the Council of Bond Oversight. Tim Gatz, who leads the OTA and the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, would take the bond issues before the Oklahoma Supreme Court for approval because of pending litigation, according to a resolution approved by the authority. 

The proposed routes are part of a lawsuit filed by Pike Off Oklahoma, a grassroots organization. The group said a 1987 bill that authorized the turnpike expansion did not include those routes and two years later the bonds were not included in a package with other bonds. 

Before agreeing to the bonds, the OTA canceled a $200 million line of credit with Wells Fargo. 

The OTA’s actions were in response to their lawsuit, a spokesperson for Pike Off OTA said. 

“The OTA was told a few weeks ago that they were approved for a $200 million line of credit, so long as they did not use any of the funds on the turnpike projects that are the subject of pending litigation,” said Whitney Mullica, vice-president of Pike Off OTA. “Today, the OTA canceled that line of credit and approved a resolution to acquire the first $1 billion dollars of a $5 billion project if approved by the council of bond oversight. Ignoring the protesters in the room, more than 100 people watching online, and their own administrative rules regarding litigation, it took The OTA roughly thirty minutes to potentially give themselves and their contractor good old boy buddies a billion dollars.”

The projects are part of Access Oklahoma, a 15-year, $5 billion plan announced by OTA and Gov. Kevin Stitt in February. 

Stitt, who serves as an ex-officio member of the OTA, said then the routes are necessary. 

“The future of our economy will depend on having a modern highway system that manages congestion and reliable travel times,” Stitt said. “ACCESS Oklahoma is a bold investment in our future that provides needed corridor connections and expansions while making travel easier and leading to more economic development across the state.”

The OTA also approved proposed routes for the south Extension, east-west Connector and tri-city Connector. 

Chairman Gene Love said the routes are not final.

Mullica said Thursday’s actions would not stop Pike Off OTA.

“The people of Oklahoma are tired of being treated like we have no voice,” Mullica said. “We have a voice, and despite what The OTA may think, we also have a choice. This is our state, and our roads, not the OTA’s.”

Associate Editor

Kim Jarrett's career spans over 30 years with stops in radio, print and television. She has won awards from both the Georgia Press Association and the Georgia Association of Broadcasters.