OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A state representative is lauding the Oklahoma House of Representatives’ passage of a bill that calls for a study of a controversial turnpike expansion proposal, saying that while it does not stop the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority from proceeding with its plans, it does slow the process down.
“This is a creative way to slow things down and make sure we have the transparency and accountability out of our government,” said Rep. Jacob Rosecrants, D-District 46.
OTA recently approved a $200 million revolving line of credit with Wells Fargo, N.A., an effort officials said is needed to keep the long-range Access Oklahoma highway infrastructure plan on track.
The infrastructure plan involves a massive turnpike expansion that has been decried by scores of Norman residents who say the project threatens their homes and livelihoods.
Senate Bill 1610 requires a study be done on the plan. The bill was amended before it passed in the House.
“We noticed yesterday that the whole turnpike plan was not in the bill, so Rep. Sterling added an amendment, and that amendment simply adds in the east-west leg of this turnpike [to the study]; as it was previously written it was only the southern leg,” Rosecrants said. “Because of the amendment, it has to go back to the Senate so [the bill’s author] Sen. Standridge can accept or reject the amendment.”
Thursday was the deadline for bills to be heard, but not the deadline for bills with an accepted or rejected amendment. If the amendment is accepted in the Senate then the bill will go to Gov. Stitt, but will go to Conference Committee if rejected, according to Rosecrants.
Many Norman community members and leaders were startled when they learned about the planned turnpike expansion.
“The governor announced this big, huge plan, and we were just blindsided by it,” Rosecrants said. “What we’re working against is our governor. The folks at OTA said this is not the way they do business. They don’t make a big announcement and go forward after the announcement. It’s usually the opposite way; they have conversations with community members and leaders who are affected [first].”
Community members have showed up en masse at city meetings and OTA-held discussions to oppose the turnpike expansion. The Norman City Council passed a resolution opposing the expansion in March.
The study that the bill calls for is not a silver bullet that will stop the turnpike from happening, according to Rosecrants. He said OTA is rarely stopped from following through with its plans.
“We’re doing what we can to slow things down and have conversations. I want people to be pragmatic and realize it’s very difficult to stop OTA from doing what they want to do,” he said. “I do have hope from the advocacy I’ve seen on this and the unity I’ve seen on this.”
However, he said, OTA will not proceed unabated.
“It will be the most homes destroyed by any turnpike in the state,” Rosecrants said. “It’s not just going to happen without somebody fighting against it.”