OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A citizen group from Norman said OTA is to blame for their own financial issues, including their inability to access the bond market.
“There’s a lot of pain here, but all of this pain could have been avoided,” said Sen. Mary Boren, D-Norman.
Oklahomans For Responsible Transportation held a press conference at the Capitol to address alleged financial mismanagement on the part of OTA.
The group presented paperwork that showed the Kickapoo Turnpike underperforming on revenue compared to their debt obligations.
Amy Cerato, a professional engineer and member of the group, said the OTA uses its most populous turnpikes to pay for the underperforming ones.
‘It is absolutely horrendous how the Oklahoma turnpike authority can get away with continually doing bad engineering and poor fiscal practices,” said Cerato.
Boren agreed and said turnpike expansion is used to pay for existing OTA debt because toll revenue alone is not enough.
“In order to cover that much of a gap it’s going to take a whole lot more than increasing fees. It’s got to be issuing more debt or more bonds to cover that debt,” said Boren.
Jessica Brown, a spokesperson for ODOT, said the claims and information provided by the group was “misleading.”
“It’s unfortunate that misleading and inaccurate information continues to be presented to the media (public) to fit a narrowly defined purpose. The fact is OTA is well managed, fiscally responsible, and financially sound – and the proof is in the numbers,” said Brown, in part of a statement.
She said a new financial report for 2022 will prove financial prudence.
Brown also disagreed with the idea that more turnpikes are created to use the bonds for prior debt repayment.
“There is no plan to use proposed ACCESS Oklahoma Program bond money to pay off prior debt. However, the OTA occasionally refinances previous debt when market conditions are favorable for savings without extending the term of the debt,” said Brown.
She added that each bond is used for different reasons.
“There are many rules in place about what the bond proceeds can be used for and the issuer must disclose their intended use. Turnpike Revenue Bonds may be issued for the purpose of paying the costs of turnpike projects that are defined in Statute by the Legislature,” said ODOT spokesperson.
ACCESS Oklahoma is the recent major turnpike expansion project for the state.
It would cost $5 billion.
Oklahomans for Responsible Transportation have been fighting this project for over a year.
Last week, the project was suspended because OTA could not access the bond market.
“In recent months, legal matters pending before the Supreme Court, including the “validation” case, and an impending state investigative audit, have prevented access to the bond market,” said Tim Gatz, OTA’s Executive Director, in part of a statement.
But he also said the agency is in a “strong financial position.”
Cerato and the group from Norman claim more financial issues will arise from a state audit, which was requested by Attorney General Gentner Drummond.
“They have preferred consultants and they pay them whatever they want,” said Cerato. “I think what the Oklahoma citizens are going to find out is there are 12-15 preferred consultants and contractors making literally tens of millions of dollars on the backs of knocking down regular Oklahoma citizens homes.”
The spokesperson for OTA did not agree with that accusation either.
“It is not uncommon for these consulting contracts to be amended to increase that amount when or if necessary based on the evolving scope of work required to complete the project,” said Brown.