NORMAN, Okla. (KFOR) – While many celebrated the Council of Bond Oversight’s decision to halt the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority (OTA) from using the approved $200 million line of credit for work on proposed expansion through the East-West Connector, the Tri-City Connector and the South Extension while a lawsuit targeting those routes moves through the court system, some of OTA’s critics are concerned that other funds may be used to continue work on those projects.
“It’s so reckless, and callous – to pull cash from existing turnpikes with known problems and that require pavement rehabilitation, bridge repair [and] engineering inspections to fund development of projects that couldn’t get funding because their legality is in question,” stated Pike Off OTA president Michael Nash in a partial statement to KFOR.
“We know that funds in an unaudited agency like OTA are fungible. We are concerned that the OTA is ignoring the purpose and spirit of the Council’s decision by choosing to move forward with legally unauthorized turnpikes with unspecified general fund money,” said Dr. Amy Cerato, also a Pike Off OTA member, in a release.
The OTA has stated that it will compensate fairly for any land it has to acquire through right-of-way land acquisition, but for east Norman resident, Robin Schwab, it’s impossible to put a price on an inheritance that’s taken decades to build.
“My father always said one of the best things you can get is land…it’s an asset,” Schwab said in an interview Monday with KFOR. “So in buying this land I felt like I was establishing something that would last forever.”
Schwab told KFOR she’s concerned that if she does have to move, she won’t be able to afford a comparable alternative.
“I kind of want to spend my last days here,” she said.
Schwab says she was hoping to leave the property to her sons as their inheritance.
“They’re never going to replace this. And with the housing shortage, [and] I’m on Social Security,” Schwab said. “There’s no way I’d ever get rid of this land [otherwise].”
“You’ve seen the turnpikes…on either side of the road, how they look,” she added. “It would just be ruined.”
As the state moves forward with what it asserts is a ‘prioritization of large scale transportation projects to alleviate gridlock, safety concerns and congestion,’ OTA continues to assert an inability “to maintain the existing highway infrastructure in reasonable operating condition,” according to a statement released on May 10 by the agency.
The agency has also cited a need for “state, county and municipal officials to work together” to continue moving forward with the long-range plan.
Opponents are now calling for a state audit, further review of the agency’s financial records and other accountability actions.
Senator Mary Boren has also filed a resolution to require the State Auditor and Inspector to review the OTA, following the approval of the $200 million line of credit for approval.
According to the Norman Democrat, the filing would give the State Auditor the ability to review property sale records in addition to performing an audit to determine how long it will take to pay off existing turnpikes; thereby also adding insight into the amount paid for voluntary right of way access property contracts, according to Boren.
In the meantime, Robin waits and wonders if her property will be a casualty, in the end.
“I treasure this land in so much and every tree and every animal and the location,” she said tearfully. “East Norman will never be the same.”