Friday, August 26, 2016
Posted: Friday, August 26, 2016
By WAYNE GREENE World Editorial Pages Editor
The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority is considering a three-phase, $900 million toll hike meant to finance new projects, including the critical link in Tulsa's outer loop, reconstruction of the first 20 miles of the Turner Turnpike and a rebuild of a dangerous portion of the Muskogee Turnpike.
To underwrite the authority's Driving Forward initiative, tolls would rise 12 percent in January, an additional 2.5 percent in January, 2018, and another 2.5 percent in July, 2019. The toll hikes would be timed to the planned sale of bonds to finance construction projects.
The latest version of the construction plan includes a 4.5 mile-extension of Tulsa's outer loop from Interstate 244's west Tulsa interchange with Interstate 44 to Edison Road near U.S. 412.
That would include a crucial bridge over the Arkansas River, which has been holding up the project for years. Interchanges would be likely at 21st Street and 31st Street. The road would be operated and maintained by the turnpike authority.
Hopefully, the city will be able to continue incremental efforts to complete the final section of the loop, to open northwest Tulsa to development and allow west Tulsa industrial sites to become more productive. While that isn't guaranteed, the bridge project is the critical link: The most expensive piece of the unbuilt road that city planners have work on for years.
Other projects in the package include six-laning 20 miles of the Turner Turnpike in both directions from Bristow to the Creek Turnpike interchange and reconstruction of the Muskogee Turnpike from the Creek Turnpike interchange to Oklahoma 51 near Coweta. That 9.5-mile project will fix a dangerous stretch of road and make toll collection faster.
Some people want to drive on roads, but don't want to pay for them. Thus, a $19 trillion (and growing ) national debt and a nearly empty federal highway trust fund.
Thus, a creeping process of building the outer loop a few feet at a time.
Thus, a lawsuit from Oklahoma City attorney/provocateur Jerry Fent to frustrate the bond sales plans.
Others want there to be roads, in the abstract, but somewhere else. Not in their neighborhood.
Thus, efforts to frustrate another element of the package, a Northeast Oklahoma County loop to link Intestate 40 and Interstate 44 (and allow Tulsa drivers headed to Norman or Dallas to avoid some of the worst of Oklahoma City traffic).
Good roads with sufficient capacity to meet the demands of thousands of drivers are essential to the state's development.
More than 50 years ago, Oklahoma created the toll-road system as the backbone to its future highway system, including a rational system of cross-pledging revenues from the lucrative Turner Turnpike to finance other needed projects.
There are no free roads. The latest round of toll roads — and the toll increases that come with them — will allow Tulsa and Oklahoma to prosper, and we should all be willing to bear the cost.