OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – An Oklahoma state senator has filed a measure, calling on the State Auditor to audit the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority.
For weeks, a battle has been brewing between landowners and the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority.
The OTA has announced several projects that they say will “expand and enhance toll roads throughout the state and add capacity to the system.”
However, thousands of Oklahomans have voiced concerns about the plans, including homeowners who say their properties will be destroyed by the proposed turnpikes.
Due to a newly filed lawsuit in the District Court of Cleveland County, for now, the OTA can move forward with their plans, but only in absentia of three planned routes through Cleveland County, along the South Extension, the East-West Connector and the Tri-City Connector.
The lawsuit alleges that the OTA has taken an “unauthorized” and “unlawful” approach to expansion that would alter or destroy thousands of homes or other property, in addition to leaving Oklahomans with a financial burden for projects its plaintiff’s claim the OTA has not proven are necessary.
The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority also said it is aware of the lawsuit and is currently evaluating it, adding that the agency has developed a “detailed accounting tracking system for each project within the ACCESS Oklahoma program,” to account for money spent.
Now, Sen. Mary Boren, (D) Norman, has authored Senate Concurrent Resolution 28, which directs the State Auditor to audit the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority.
Boren says that OTA is moving forward with plans to begin work on the toll road expansion, including purchasing properties.
“The language of SCR 28 is like my previously filed SCR 25 and demands a moratorium on the building of new turnpikes. But given OTA’s decision to proceed with plans to keep buying properties for disputed projects, SCR 28 adds new language for the State Auditor to review ODOT’s and OTA’s financial documents for the purchase of homes and property for right-of-way access,” Boren said. “By reviewing these documents, Oklahomans will have a better understanding of how state and federal tax dollars, along with bond dollars, are being used to purchase property. This review of financial documents will also make sure everyone is getting the same favorable terms when negotiating with the state.”
Boren has voiced her strong opposition in recent months to two proposed projects in her district.
“It’s important that we demand accountability and transparency of our agencies, like the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority that is proposing to spend billions of dollars over the next several years on projects that would displace hundreds of homes and businesses,” Boren said. “Before we start making plans to build new turnpikes, we need to figure out how to pay off what we already have and make sure every homeowner is empowered to negotiate for the best terms possible, even if they are not wealthy and well-connected.”
The Norman Democrat said she is actively seeking bipartisan support for SCR 28 to be heard before the 2022 session adjourns this month.
“The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority and the Oklahoma Department of Transportation work in a fiscally responsible manner and are confident of the safeguards in place and transparency practiced. By statute 69-1720, the Authority must undergo annual financial audits performed by an independent firm of certified public accountants. Both agencies embrace their statutorily defined governance responsibilities and the idea of identifying ways to develop processes of continuous improvement. The Transportation Cabinet recently developed a more robust, cabinet-wide internal audit division. These internal audits are used as a management tool to monitor performance in a variety of areas and ensure we are utilizing best practices, complying with our policies and procedures, and helping determine if those practices, policies and procedures are yielding the desired results.”Jessica Brown,
Strategic Communications Division, Oklahoma Department of Transportation