OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A new chapter is unfolding in the turmoil over expanding Oklahoma’s turnpikes, as the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority approved a new way to possibly pay for part of the project Thursday. A special meeting was held as the plans are currently tied up in a lawsuit.
Protesters expressed dissatisfaction at the OTA meeting in Oklahoma City as their fight continues to stop the proposed turnpike along Indian Hills Road that would connect Newcastle to Norman and potentially displace hundreds of homes.
A lawsuit filed by Pike Off OTA, calling the turnpike unlawful, was a major reason for the special meeting being called.
Thursday, OTA approved to change how they’ll finance Access Oklahoma projects by authorizing the termination of a $200 million line of credit and instead issuing $1 billion in revenue bonds.
“The litigation impacted our ability to use the line of credit,” said OTA Executive Director Tim Gatz.
He explained that they also got approval to direct an application to the Oklahoma Supreme Court for validation of the bonds to be issued. Gatz said Supreme Court validation is important.
“I think it answers one of the questions that’s in the litigation, which is whether or not the routes are valid,” he said. “We’re not sidestepping or going around anything. We’re actually moving quicker towards the resolution of it so everyone’s got certainty.”
Pike Off OTA members are still holding on to hope that they can stop the turnpike’s construction.
“They’re moving faster than they’ve ever moved before because they’re panicked,” said board member Amy Cerato. “They know Pike Off OTA’s lawsuit is valid. They think that if they can steamroll the citizens and get all the money they need and get the engineering firms on board, that no one will have the guts to stop them.”
Gatz says the next step for this financing shift is to take their bond application before the council of bond oversight, which will likely happen next month. They have no timeline of when the Supreme Court could give its approval.
Thursday, the OTA board also approved toll rates for I-44/H.E. Bailey Turnpike for its conversion to PlatePay – cashless tolling. The approval, expedited after a Friday overnight crash at the Newcastle toll plaza, will allow OTA to convert the H.E. Bailey turnpike between Oklahoma City and Lawton to PlatePay in late June, about five weeks in advance of the originally planned conversion.