In the six months since the controversial Driving Forward turnpike program was unveiled amid fanfare at a State Capitol event Oct. 29, 2015, barely an elected official has questioned the $600 million program that includes the proposed Eastern Oklahoma Turnpike.
On Thursday, State Rep. Lewis Moore called for a moratorium on all turnpikes in Oklahoma.
His issue is that the state uses the money it gets from road and driving related fees to fund other things instead of fixing bridges, roads and building so-called reliever routes to fix congestion on stressed interstates.
“We collect enough money to meet our transportation needs without having to resort to building turnpikes,” said Moore, R-Edmond. “It is time to hit the pause button on new turnpikes while we reorganize. Constituent concerns and current news articles about traffic projections make a moratorium an even wiser decision at this time.”
Moore’s news release was distributed through the House of Representatives Media outlet on Thursday.
For months, Eastern Oklahoma County citizens have held protest rallies, amassed petitions, protested, talked, questioned and researched the Turnpike Authority and asked elected officials to listen to their concerns.They’ve pooled money and resources to buy signs, t-shirts and to cobble together a marketing plan to get some attention to stop the road. Harrah resident Phillip Arnold even tried to run against Moore for his house seat until Moore challenged his candidacy and won.
Meanwhile, the Driving Forward program kept moving forward. Just this week, the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority approved the design phase of the EOC and the SW Kilpatrick alignments.
Moore represents all of the area in the proposed EOC route that will connect I-40 to I-44.
Moore said the state takes $500 million a year in motor fuels taxes – nearly half of it goes to ODOT, but the Turnpike Authority gets nine percent. And the rest goes to non-highway uses. When it comes to getting money for drivers licenses, tags and other vehicle collections, the state takes in about $750 million. But a third of that funds education and counties. As most Oklahomans know, public education is suffering under the state’s crippled budget this year.
Still, Moore thinks it’s time to look it all over. But the looking better start soon. The current session of the Oklahoma Legislature ends this month, and the state budget issues have yet to be meaningfully tackled in public.
Moore’s news release also said:
“There is a need for a high speed route in Eastern Oklahoma County linking I-40 to I-44,” Moore added. “We just finished the Hogback Road exit on I-44. It only makes sense to create a super two-lane from I-40 to the Hogback Road interchange. Luther and Triple X Roads are vital North-South roads that need work as well.”
Decades of diverting money, has left a void filled by the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority. It’s no different than underfunding the Department of Corrections and then giving out private prison contracts, Moore said.
“ODOT is a professional, well-run agency,” Moore said. “We have an eight-year plan because we have a lot of work that needs to be done and now we know we have the money we need if we use it for its intended purpose. Nothing can trump a system of roads and bridges moving our families
and commerce safely and spurring economic development. We’ve been living with poor roads and bridges when we’ve had the money to do it right. It is shameful and must stop.”
Moore said the state is chasing the wrong priorities.