A typo in the date has been corrected.
NORMAN, Okla. (KFOR) – The ongoing turmoil over planned turnpikes in central Oklahoma became a direct, face-to-face affair Thursday night, as the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority held its first public meeting.
A part of the $5 billion Access Oklahoma plan, OTA is proposing a new turnpike along Indian Hills Road, one that would connect Newcastle to Norman.
They’re also wanting to extend the Kickapoo Turnpike west of Lake Thunderbird, essentially connecting the Kickapoo Turnpike to Purcell.
OTA leadership has explained that the new turnpike would lessen traffic volumes and congestion significantly, especially on I-35, but hundreds of residents have expressed deep concern over their homes possibly being displaced.
Thursday night was the first of four public meetings.
It took place at Noble High School with about 150 concerned residents in attendance.
These individuals had been awaiting their chance to finally, directly ask the OTA if their home will be affected by the turnpike, hoping their uncertainty would be relieved. Many were unsatisfied with the reportedly common response of “I don’t know.”
“It seems like it’s more someone who is here to finesse an unhappy crowd rather than to genuinely engage with people’s very legitimate concerns,” said Tassie Hirschfeld.
Resident Howell Grayson felt similar, saying, “No, I didn’t get the information I wanted tonight.”
OTA Deputy Director Joe Echelle said the purpose of the meeting was to learn “unique” situations.
“The goal tonight is to get information out on an individual level,” he said. “We know a lot of these people have individual questions about their individual situation.”
But he and his team didn’t have an answer for the most common question.
“Everybody has an individual question about whether their home is going to be impacted or not. At this stage, I don’t know,” Echelle said.
He went on to explain to KFOR that it could be six to eight months before they know how many and which homes will be in the path of the turnpike, but said Thursday’s public meeting could possibly alter their plans.
“I think that in six to eight months, I’ll have a pretty decent estimate,” he said. “All the information that we’re gathering here tonight is vital. And in past projects, whether they were ODOT-related or OTA-related. We have gathered information and information has come from individuals that we weren’t able to get out of a database that has absolutely affected the way our project was delivered, whether it was relocated or built in a different manner, changed the way the construction phasing was done. All of those things are all possible with the information that we’re gathering here tonight.”
Many in attendance were left wondering if OTA’s “open ear” is sincere. Concerns aren’t only economic, but also environmental with the turnpike possibly affecting the water and nature at and around Lake Thunderbird.
“But a study is only as good as the intent that the people have that are doing it,” said Suzanne Pendergraft. “And if they don’t have the intent to truly find out what the result, the effect is going to be, they’re just going to go through the steps and not actually do the kind of research that they probably should do.”
This was the first of four public meetings.
The next three are at Newcastle Public Schools on April 18 at 6 p.m., Norman Central Library on April 19th at 5:30 p.m., and Moore Library on April 21 at 5:30 p.m.
For more information, visit Access Oklahoma’s website.