NORMAN, Okla. (KFOR) – Another night, another meeting surrounding the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority’s proposed turnpike. Tuesday, the OTA held their third public session answering individual questions one-on-one.
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.
Tuesday night, a fired up crowd of at least 200 gathered at the Norman Public Library demanding clear and honest answers from the OTA at their public meeting. The agency set up tables where concerned residents could ask OTA engineers and right-of-way acquisition specialists their individualized questions one-on-one.
KFOR found that many residents felt their most pressing questions weren’t being answered.
“Like, what’s going to happen to our water supply? What’s going to happen to our watershed? What’s going to happen to the economy of Norman when you wipe out 650 homes and you lose those property taxes and the buying power of all of those individuals are going to be displaced out of Cleveland County?” asked resident Inger Giuffrida.
One of the most common questions was if a particular home was going to get displaced, and the OTA staff would not answer that question.
“My house is going to be bulldozed unless the turnpike is stopped,” said Darla LeBlanc. “These OTA representatives, they have nothing to say to me. They look me in the eye. They say they’re sorry, but they don’t care and they aren’t going to do anything unless we, the people, stop them.”
We asked OTA Deputy Director Joe Echelle why they were having the meeting if these important questions aren’t being answered.
“We’re extremely early in this process,” he said. “We’re only a couple of months into a 15-year plan. So, a lot of the questions that people have that are very individual and specific, we don’t necessarily have the answers to. Hopefully, we’re able to answer some broad questions for them. The individual questions about exactly where this road is going to be built, we just don’t know that information yet.”
He then explained the true purpose of the evening.
“The point of tonight is that we’re able to get information, contact information, for people that maybe we can’t get other ways. It allows us to know where they live, know what address to associate with, the best way to communicate, whether that’s phone number, a phone call or email, so forth.”
He said they’re still gathering information before they can answer the very specific, personal questions.
“It’s still six to eight months from now before we’ll have an exact estimate of the number of homes affected,” Echelle explained. “That’s really dependent on where that alignment moves. We are not going to impact any cemeteries. We’re going to work really hard on water quality and a bunch of the studies having to do with water quality, understanding now, after several public meetings, that that’s a real concern.”
Echelle also expressed sympathy for those whose homes could be purchased through eminent domain, stressing that the new turnpike would lessen traffic volumes and congestion significantly, especially on I-35.
“As the state and as government, we’re asking them to make a sacrifice for a project for the greater good of Oklahoma to build a new road. And it’s really the the very toughest part of our job, is this piece going out and asking the public to make a sacrifice for a state project for the greater good. But to not do this, to not provide a reliever route is to sentence people to gridlock and accidents, major accidents forever. And so we have to do something about that.”
Tuesday was the third of four public OTA meetings. The last one is Thursday evening at the Moore Library at 5:30 p.m.