OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A proposed highway ramp is causing a rift between the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, the Chickasaw Nation, and the governor.
The project calls for improvements to the State Highway 9 and I-35 interchange and includes a flyover ramp connecting the highway to the Riverwind Casino.
The Oklahoma Department of Transportation discussed the plan in a meeting.
The Chickasaw Nation committed $10 million out of $17 million needed for the flyover ramp, but Secretary of Transportation Tim Gatz says the Transportation Commission needs to look at the bigger picture for overall upgrades to the interchange.
“This is simply a matter of an understanding that we have yet to pick an improvement that would fix the entire interchange, and we’re proceeding with an additional operational improvement that from an engineering standpoint, just didn’t seem prudent,” he said.
ODOT says changes are needed to cater to the amount of growth in the area.
The $17 million is the amount in ODOT’s Eight-year Plan, but more funds will likely need to be added as plans are developed.
Gatz says alternate designs have been developed for years but nothing was picked.
Transportation Commissioner T.W. Shannon says the flyover plan should go forward, questioning if the secretary was facing political pressure from the governor.
“Why is that project all of a sudden insufficient to meet the needs of that district?” he asked. “Why are you consulting the governor’s office on something that statutes give the governor no authority on?”
The governor’s office released the following statement:
“Governor Stitt strongly believes that the needed improvements to the I-35 interchange with Highway 9 West should be made in a way that benefits all 4 million Oklahomans. The Governor will always fight to ensure taxpayer dollars are invested in projects that serve the people of Oklahoma and not pet projects for special interests.”
Gatz says he consults with the governor’s office to have a better understanding when he enters into tribal agreements on behalf of the state.
The Chickasaw Nation released the following statement from their governor, Bill Anoatubby:
“The Chickasaw Nation has enjoyed a long and productive relationship with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT). This positive relationship has benefitted all Oklahomans resulting in many roads and bridge projects. Moving forward, it is important to remain focused and committed to working together as neighbors, friends, and partners to make the much-needed infrastructure improvements necessary for continued economic development and greater public safety. We will stay true to achieving the common goal to create a safer road system for all Oklahomans.”
The Transportation Commission also voted down a resolution affirming the Eight-year Plan, saying it was redundant.
They also voted down a motion to submit a question to the Attorney General asking if McGirt applies to ODOT projects.