Although the Oklahoma Department of Transportation said it cannot stop the proposed Eastern Oklahoma County turnpike, executive director Mike Patterson said his agency is no stranger to the pain and anxiety road-building causes to residents in the way of the roads.
In the case of the controversial EOC, his agency’s board Monday was asked to formally acknowledge the proposed construction of the $300 million EOC toll road devised by its partner agency, The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority. The EOC toll road will snake up from I-40 and follow a route roughly along Luther Road until it connects at the Turner Turnpike east of Luther Road at 164th. It’s state law that ODOT must nod at new major roads, just in case they might want to build one in the same vicinity. Since one of the stated reasons the OTA keeps building turnpikes is that “ODOT is chronically under-funded,” and the two state agencies work together closely, duplication is not likely. But the law is the law and the agenda item needed to show up in the minutes for the law and posterity.
Still, the appearance of the turnpike issue on the ODOT agenda brought a crowd to the meeting of EOC residents against the proposed road.
Newalla resident Paul Crouch was the one ODOT meeting visitor allowed to speak on behalf of those against the EOC toll road. “It was a farce and obviously had already been decided. Unfortunately, we cannot control them but we at least made a showing,” he said. Crouch submitted this reflective Letter to the Editor to The Luther Register.
EOC neighbor Steve Maguire also attended and admits he is on a steep learning curve when it comes to figuring out how state government operates. He’s from Connecticutt. Things are different there.
“There were a whole lot of suits in there applauding Neal McCaleb,” said Maguire who said the ODOT board “rubber-stamped” the turnpike plan to build the EOC tool road, and the SW Kilpatrick extension on the other side of Oklahoma County. A longtime state transportation executive, McCaleb is the former director of ODOT, and currently consults with OTA.
McCaleb spoke of the historical nature of the turnpike system. He spoke similarly at the May ODOT meeting.
Maguire said he expected the ODOT board to approve the toll roads, even though he and others don’t believe the high-speed toll road will provide the reliever route the state professes.
“Who are these commuters on I-35, and where are they going out here?” asked Maguire. “It’s a bogus argument saying the EOC is for safety and preventing accidents. It is not an alternative. They can pretend all day it is; but it isn’t.”
Patterson, for his part, told The Luther Register that he expected the crowd. “I would have been surprised if they were not there.” He remembers when I-235/Centennial Expressway through the heart of Oklahoma City was built and the heartache it caused for homeowners and businesses in the path. Still, the road prevailed.
“If people wanted to sell their land, they would have had a ‘for sale’ sign in their yard,” said Patterson. He understands and says his agency believes in property rights. ODOT is not involved in the turnpike building, he said.
Patterson said the ODOT board meetings are business meetings, not public hearings, although they were happy to oblige Couch at Monday’s meeting. Patterson and an ODOT spokesperson also clarified that ODOT will not pay for interchanges on the Driving Forward projects.
ODOT Media and Public Relations Chief Terri Angier said there was some public confusion about whether state tax dollars will be used on exchanges and loops to connect one road to another. She said when a turnpike touches a state highway, ODOT must approve the connection, not pay for it. Currently that involves approving the EOC pike at its southern end of I-40, and also the SW Kilpatrick where it will join Highway 152. In the future, it will involve approving a planned EOC pike exit at Highway 62 (NE 23rd Street).
Meantime, the EOC creeps forward with letters being sent to landowners and construction forecast to begin within a year.