OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority voted on a resolution Tuesday, to approve a 200-million-dollar 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.
“Of course we’re a little disappointed that it got approved, but I’m not surprised,” said concerned Norman homeowner Randy Carter.
“They’ve just moved a step closer to making this turnpike a reality in our neighborhood, [and] I can’t help but take it personally,” he added, telling KFOR he the home he’s lived in since 1979 from the ground up.
Officials have said previously that ACCESS Oklahoma will be funded by bonds, without an impact to the state budget.
The program will be paid for using bonds, while maintenance and operating costs for the turnpikes are expected to be managed from toll revenue and other sources.
To receive final approval, the bond proposition must now be heard and voted on by the Council of Bond Oversight, a five-member body responsible for reviewing and approving all financing requests by state agencies and authorities.
The council meets monthly to review financing requests and may set specific conditions for approval that have to be adhered to before the funding is issued to the OTA; the measure will be heard in their next regularly scheduled meeting on May 4th.
Oklahoma officials continue to assert that the fifteen-year, five-billion-dollar plan is critical to advancing expansion and reinvestment around the state, adding that the interim financing will also allow the long-awaited engineering and environmental impact studies to proceed, while adding that the process will be predicated by requirements of their regulatory agency partners, including; The Bureau of Land Reclamation; the Water Resources Board; Oklahoma’s Department of Environmental Quality; The United States Fish and Wildlife Service; and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, according to Transportation Secretary Tim Gatz.
The meeting was also attended by other Oklahomans who would be affected by the South extension, asserting that neither the city (of Norman), nor the legislators are getting the answers they need to move forward comfortably with the project.
“It’s important that people have a firm understanding of what’s going on, [and we’re not] getting the answers,” said Sherrie Snow, who lives in the northern section of Norman, less than two miles from where the proposed turnpike is being built in Indian Hills.
Snow told KFOR she feels there’s been a lack of transparency from the beginning of the process, while also expressing vexation at the potential for homes, other land, and environments to be affected.
“Interim financing will help us get out of the starting blocks and get to the point where we’ve got better engineering, better information,” said Gatz, adding that the agency has already pulled the trigger on environmental studies to help measure and minimize the projected impact.
KFOR requested a list of already executed and planned environmental impact studies from OK Transportation officials, as well as a timeline of completion, when and how the findings will be released to the public, and was provided with the following by the Strategic Communications Division of the Oklahoma Transportation Cabinet:
Exact Studies (at minimum), to be completed by spring of 2023:
- Waters and Wetland Delineation
- Biological Assessment (Endangered, Threatened, and Candidate Species, Designated Critical Habitat, Bald Eagle, and Migratory Bird Assessments)
- Cultural Resources Survey (archeological and historic resources)
In an email to KFOR, officials also indicated the following, in a partial statement:
Noise studies will be performed once design is more complete. Information on location of resources will be available to the public at that time, with the exception of archeological sites, whose locations are protected information. Reports will not be finalized until they are reviewed by the outside agencies which will occur closer to construction.Brenda Perry Clark
Strategic Communications Division
“You’re talking [at least] 600 homes. You’re talking the water supply at Lake Thunderbird, the animal refuge in Norman, the wildlife,” added Michele Eccleston, a Pike Off OTA volunteer.
“Obviously, [the plan is] going to have to be refined a little bit, especially on the South extension, but we’ve put a lot of effort into not coming out with a corridor plan that’s three miles wide,” said Gatz.
“We’ve tried to narrow that as much as we can,” he continued, telling reporters Tuesday that the proposed plan will go through “another iteration” based on environmental study and engineering refinements, a series of moves he expects will “narrow the [impact] of the footprint even further” with a long-range approach to the plan.
Following the studies, Gatz said the agency is committed to helping Oklahomans impacted by right-of-way acquisition find “replacement housing”; however, local residents were resistant.
“One of the most disappointing things is, is if it happens, I’m going to have to clean up my house instead of my kids after I’m gone,” said Carter.
“The earth has taken enough damage as it is,” said Eccleston. “We don’t need to scar it anymore with another turnpike.”