OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR)- A ‘Toll Rate Increase Assumptions’ chart drafted by the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority calculates drivers could possibly pay nearly $10/trip when traveling through the Turner Turnpike in 2046.
The chart was released to civil engineer and Pike Off OTA member, Amy Cerato.
Cerato and her team submitted open records requests through the state’s Department of Transportation, looking for more information regarding current engineering studies, current impact studies, how many homes would be impacted by the construction of new turnpikes, and more.
“What they sent me were studies from the 1980s and the 1990s and then old justifications for why they think these new routes work, which are in no way close to where the other routes were sited. How can they justify those today?,” asked Cerato.
In the middle of nearly 2,000 pages of open records request documents, Cerato stumbled upon the toll rate assumption chart for the Turner Turnpike.
The chart shows assumed Turner Turnpike rate increase from 2021 to 2046.
For 2023, the chart lists a 10% toll rate increase which would push the current Turner toll rate from $4.50 to $4.95.
From there, there’s a possibility of an additional 6% rate increase every two years until at least 2045.
The chart shows that by 2046, Oklahoma drivers could be paying $9.40/trip when driving through the Turner toll.
“You’re going from, say, $100 bill a month to a three or $400 bill a month. And I don’t think that the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority should be allowed to do that. They don’t need to do that,” said Cerato.
The chart is based off the assumption that there will be 3% inflation/year.
That chart is based off a multitude of aspects, but the Department of Transportation was unable to jump into specifics Tuesday morning.
The Department of Transportation did share, however, the “financial realm” played a huge role in determining numbers and percentages. The feasibility of new turnpikes also played into these assumptions.
“When sort of thinking about how do we finance a long range plan to not only reinvest into the turnpike system, but also expand it so we don’t have gridlock in year 2050. We have to think about how we can get those funds, what it will cost us. So we had to make many assumptions. And the chart you see is one assumption based on the idea that, again, 15-year long range plan, how are we going to be able to pay for that?,” asked the Director of Strategic Communications for the Oklahoma Transportation Cabinet, Jessica Brown.
Brown said a toll rate increase has not been approved as of Tuesday morning, but that there will be an increase in the future.
The increase would also affect every state toll and not just Turner, “but we are one of the lowest. We’re 60% lower nationwide for our toll rates,” said Brown.
“Right now, what we’re doing is trying to start the Access Oklahoma plan. We’ve already started at the very beginning, but we’re trying to jump a few hurdles now so we can take out that first bond issuance and that first bond issuance is for $500 million. We do not need a rate increase to pay for that. I do know that at this point in time,” added Brown.
The last time OTA increased their toll rates was in 2019.
“About 40% of the toll rates that we collect come from out-of-state motorists. So those out-of-state motorists are paying for about 40% of our turnpike system,” said Brown.
Cerato told KFOR the OTA should continue as is and maintain roadways already in place, to let communities decide whether or not they need a new roadway.
“The new ones that we’re looking at have been thought about for decades now. We’ve known there is an issue along I-35 and I-40 and we have to do something now. We have traffic studies that shows specifically where we are now, where we will be in ten, 20, even 30 and 40 years from now,” stated Brown.
Brown showed KFOR a chart in which it illustrates that come 2050, if there isn’t a new turnpike or new roadways, I-35 will be stuck in a continuous gridlock.
The chart shows I-35 will be in a “Stop-and-Go Flow,” meaning the speed will be inconsistent and changing lanes causes a shock wave in traffic delays.
“They’re using fear and false data to justify an unnecessary transportation corridor that will destroy East Norman. And so from an engineering standpoint, it’s just an easy decision. They should not be allowed to build these roadways, and they should be forced to stop all of their engineering, design and surveying immediately,” stated Cerato.
Along with Cerato’s finding of the chart, she said they have also seen some anomalies.
“We have a group of people working on them. And so far we found interesting anomalies between co-mingling of ODOT and state funding. So we have a $50 million transfer into the state budget from ODOT that’s unmarked. We don’t know what it’s for. They have in their revenue stream and their budget, they have a $10 million ‘other category’ that’s not listed that we have no idea what they’re spending their extra $10 million on in their budget,” explained Cerato.
Brown said there’s a lot of focus on the new turnpikes that are being proposed as it means they’ll have to acquire “some” property to be able to build those.
“But Access Oklahoma is much more than building some new toll roads. It’s reinvesting into our current system. It’s widening the Turner Turnpike, it’s widening the Will Rogers Turnpike and the JCT. We are putting a lot more into the system because it needs it and we need to make sure we keep those roads up so we do attract the people who do want that more convenient ride,” Brown told KFOR.
Cerato said this will not only affect the metro, but that it’s an “all of Oklahoma problem.”
“There are 600,000 Oklahomans currently in danger of losing their homes and the environment around their homes. With the authorization in the statute and so we are asking all Oklahomans to join Pike Off and to put a stop to the unnecessary and unjustified turnpikes that the OTA has been trying to build all over our state,” said Cerato.