As a few hundred more citizens signed an online petition calling for a halt to a proposed turnpike in NE Oklahoma County, some surveyors walked around property near 150th and Dobbs today, in the march toward a $300 million project to connect I-40 to I-44 in four years.
“We are concerned with those living in these areas and we will do our best to avoid as many houses and businesses as possible. We do know though that we will have to take some people’s property,” wrote Jack Damrill, spokesman for the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority today in an email reply to The Luther Register.
Damrill also said the OTA has not released a map outlining the proposed path of the 21-mile stretch, the most expensive of six turnpike projects unveiled at the state capitol just a few weeks ago. “Apparently, some people are saying there is a map that they’ve seen and that is a map from the Turnpike Authority. This is NOT true. If there is a map out there, it has not been authorized by the OTA,” he said.
Some neighbors are concerned about the lack of transparency about the project. Wren Hawthorne and his family have lived in Choctaw for 38 years and says losing the beauty of the quiet agricultural countryside is a high price to pay for a shorter commute.
“My mother and father, sister, niece and nephew, and grandmother will apparently lose their homes if the mysterious x’s are any indication of the new route. This seems more reminiscent of a totalitarian government than the democracy we live in. I am disappointed in the state and the City of Choctaw for not being better communicators about this project,” said Hawthorne.
Damrill said the “x” markings are not necessarily the proposed route.
“Currently, Olsson and Associates is conducting surveillance of land in Eastern Oklahoma County. Those surveying the land are putting big X’s on several areas in numerous spots. Once those are all down, then they will conduct survey’s with these X’s by the air. This is solely to get the topography of the land.”
He also said if landowners are in the area of a new road, they will be contacted individually by someone with the OTA or the company hired to lead this project.
The surveyors were spotted Monday near the Polach place at 150th and Dobbs in Luther. Cara Polach said she and her husband tried to race home but didn’t make it before the surveyors had walked all over their farm and told other family members their markings were for aerial surveillance.
The project does have it’s supporters. No one denies that rush-hour or any hour traffic in the metro can be a nightmare and will get worse with economic growth which is why many of us moved to the country in the first place.
Daniel Lapham moved back to Harrah recently to take care of the family land. He says he is not opposed to a turnpike and a bypass connecting the interstate to the Turner Turnpike is economically viable. But he wonders why they don’t move it over to an existing byway.
“The corridors of Highway 102 or 177 seem to make more sense than the one they are talking about now. A majority of the land out here is family farm land that has been lived on and worked for more than a hundred years. I am all for progress, but when it damages the foundations of our heritage and economic structure, it undermines the potential for sustained growth,” said Lapham.
It’s a conflict as old as our nation itself – making room for progress.
Meanwhile, the online petition to halt the project gathered nearly 1,000 signatures on Monday.