OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority has announced that work on a controversial turnpike plan will immediately cease.

On Tuesday, the OTA notified its board and consultants that all work on the Access Oklahoma plan will stop on Friday, April 14.

Officials say the stoppage includes work on the Turner Turnpike, as well as the widening and interchange additions on other turnpikes.

“I have mentioned several times, including during the recent board meeting, that our continued ACCESS Oklahoma project work would be impacted or even stopped due to our inability to enter the bond market,” Secretary of Transportation and OTA Executive Director Tim Gatz told the board in the memo.

The agency says that it remains in a strong financial position, but it can’t continue funding work without a clear timetable for access to the bond market.

Access Oklahoma is a $5 billion, 15-year long plan reinvesting into much of the current turnpike systems and building new turnpikes to help with congestion on Interstate 35.

The proposed expansion project would put a new turnpike along Indian Hills Road and connect Newcastle to Norman. Part of the plan is to also extend the Kickapoo Turnpike west of Lake Thunderbird, essentially connecting the Kickapoo Turnpike to Purcell. 

In recent months, the OTA has faced stiff opposition to its Access Oklahoma plan.

Last May, over 200 property owners in Norman filed a lawsuit, claiming the agency violated the state’s Open Meeting Act.

A Cleveland County judge agreed, saying the agency failed to inform the public about the intended routes on its meeting agendas.

Following this latest development, the OTA says it will continue moving forward with maintenance projects on existing toll roads and the conversion to cashless tolling.

“Despite the tremendous transportation needs across the state, I feel it is prudent to take this difficult step,” Gatz said. “This is an unfortunate decision that the OTA does not take lightly due to the critical nature of the ACCESS Oklahoma plan and the effect it will have on all our consultants and their employees as well as many Oklahoma communities and businesses that rely on these necessary transportation improvements. While these delays slow progress for the state, it doesn’t eliminate the need for these critical transportation enhancements that will improve safety and the quality of life for all Oklahomans.”

Officials say that although the project is at a standstill now, they plan to move forward with it eventually.

“Once these roadblocks are resolved and a path to the bond market is cleared, I am confident we will resume ACCESS Oklahoma and begin moving forward on behalf of the people of Oklahoma,” Gatz said.

The Association of Oklahoma General Contractors released the following statement:

“The Association of Oklahoma General Contractors is disappointed to hear that the 15-year ACCESS Oklahoma program has been halted due to pending legal cases. While we understand that the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority (OTA) has made a prudent decision, we cannot ignore the fact that the traveling public will be impacted by this halt. The increase in preventable accidents and lives lost due to dangerous and congested roads is a real concern for all of us. As a community, we must stay committed to improving the safety of all Oklahomans. We hope that the legal cases will be resolved quickly, and the OTA can resume work on the ACCESS Oklahoma program as soon as possible. In the meantime, we encourage everyone to stay vigilant on the roads and prioritize safety at all times.”

Bobby Stem, Association of Oklahoma General Contractors executive director

Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond issued the following statement on the OTA announcement:

“I am aware of the Turnpike Authority’s announcement to stop all work on toll road construction and improvements. This is a concerning development that causes me to question the leadership and cash flow management of this critical agency. While it is unclear what the future holds for OTA, I am certain that the investigative audit I have ordered is needed now more than ever.”