OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The new year brought new resolutions from the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority as they voted to reauthorize $42 million dollars in contracts related to the highly contested Access Oklahoma Project.
“[This vote] was the corrective action that we’ve taken to our board to approve new agenda items, to approve contracts,” said OTA counsel Eric Lair.
But the affirmative vote from the board was met with community outcry in a session that allowed for public comment for the first time.
“So how does a board ethically vote on approving millions and millions of dollars when you have no idea what that money is going to be spent on? Is this continued secret behavior by the leadership willful intent or lack of competence,” said Amy Cerato, an outspoken opponent to the Access Oklahoma Project and a plaintiff in the lawsuits aimed at stopping the previously planned construction.
The project’s been off track since a Cleveland County court ruling late last year declared the agency violated the state’s Open Meeting Act, putting plans for the project on pause.
“We knew the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority was going to rush to try to mitigate their willful violation of the Open Meetings Act, but we didn’t realize it was going to happen the day after a two week holiday vacation when people really were with their families and celebrating and trying to forget about the disaster that is being rained down on Cleveland County,” she added.
Cerato said the resolutions were a “manifesto of defiance” by the OTA.
“They don’t agree with the ruling. They don’t think they have to fix anything. And what they’re doing right now is rubber stamping the contracts again after a year and adding more money to those contracts and telling their contractors go full steam ahead,” she added.
The agency is also waiting on a Supreme Court Ruling, following a hearing for oral arguments last November regarding the expansion plan, between Oklahoma Turnpike Authority and Pike Off OTA, a group that opposes the project.
The Supreme Court does not have a date scheduled for when a decision will be made.
While the transportation agency said today’s votes were part of a plan to correct the wrong, the other side said it is another effort to steamroll any future opposition.
The votes comes one day after attorneys representing hundreds of Oklahoma citizens in a lawsuit against the OTA worked with other attorneys to get an emergency order to stop the day’s votes.
As it stands, the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority board approved five agenda items related to corrective action regarding the ACCESS Oklahoma plan. The items include re-approving multiple consultant contracts, adding the full scope of the contracts.
“It’s very important in regard of the Open Meeting lawsuit’s ruling that we bring corrective actions back to the board as expeditiously as possible,” said Secretary of Transportation and OTA Executive Director Tim Gatz. “We believe these steps are compliant with what Judge Olsen found to be lacking in previous agenda items.”
Board members also approved the first annual Authority Payment of $4 million related to the federal loan for the Gilcrease Expressway Turnpike.
The board, a six-member panel appointed by the governor to an eight-year term to oversee turnpike development, awards project contracts for road and bridge construction on a monthly basis.
The next Oklahoma Turnpike Authority board meeting is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 1, at the Oklahoma Department of Transportation Commission Room, 200 N.E. 21st St., Oklahoma City. The meeting also will be available to view live online.