The Governor’s office knew they were there, the couple of hundred Eastern Oklahoma County residents holding tightly onto both their signs and their resolve that possibly and hopefully, their noise outside the capitol would be heard inside, all the way to her office.
Likely Gov. Mary Fallin did not see the signs nor hear the vitriol in the comments aimed at her leadership. But when asked, her communications director provided a comment in reaction to the rally.
“Residents have the right to express their views at the state Capitol. The Driving Forward initiative is necessary to address the extreme transportation needs of today and for the future. Alternate routes are required to offer additional and far safer travel options for local and through traffic to relieve congestion and to help commerce and trade. I am mindful of public sentiments and concerns, especially when it comes to the acquisition of property. My transportation secretary, Gary Ridley, has assured me his top priority is to minimize impacts to private property.” – Governor May Fallin
She’s not budging. Of course “residents have the right to express their views at the capitol.” It happens every day during the legislative session. However, on the anti-turnpike rally day held during most school’s Spring Break, it was a just a little more quiet.
It was also pro-teeth or pro-dentistry day at the Capitol. Costumed plaque fighters handed out free tooth brushes and tooth paste in legislator’s offices where the assistants were working, but the elected officials had largely left the building.
This “right to express ourselves” is partially about pushing awareness and presence (and presents because free toothbrushes!), and doing the Capitol Thing. Happens nearly every day during session. A new group with cookies or roses or toothbrushes. Folks outside with signs.
Meanwhile, there’s also some legislative work being done – deadlines for getting bills out of house of origin, and committee scheduling. The regular legislative routine. But this is no regular year. State tax collections were down again in February, prompting State Treasurer Ken Miller to say, “we have apparently not yet found the bottom and continue to see the spillover effect in all major revenue streams.” So there’s less budget money. Everybody on the public dole, brace yourself. Schools, health care, prisons – it going to get worse.
But back to the rally which has nothing to do with the State’s budget crisis since the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority says investors are lined up to buy the bonds to build the roads and motorists who will pay the tolls (despite those at the rally who said they are throwing away their Pikepasses). OTA collected $20 million just in January 2016, a likely result of lower gas prices allowing more driving affordability. It’s really the only money number currently in this state that’s not bleeding all kinds of red.
Air Force Veteran and Harrah resident Paul Crouch held nothing back during his turn on the lectern. Like so many others, Paul and his wife were drawn to the rural way of life. The EOC toll road would come within 300 feet of their dream home just recently built, too far to get compensated for it and too close to ignore it.
“We are learning the hard way when it comes to Oklahoma turnpikes, we as citizens have no voice,” said Crouch. Watch the video of his comments.
Crouch said turnpike proponents want the the EOC turnpike and the other toll roads to build the city up like Dallas or Phoenix with traffic snarls, concrete jungles and inadequate infrastructure. “I am an Okie. I believe in the Oklahoma way of life, a life that the OTA is trying to take away and destroy,” he said.
Other speakers said the turnpike will devalue personal property, cause environmental concerns and will not solve the traffic problems from Oklahoma City.
Politicians and OTA like to point out – those who support the project are not vocal, and were not at the rally. That certainly confuses the cliché of whether the squeaky wheel does get the oil.
While the Capitol was quiet inside Wednesday late morning, the media came – most of the outlets – newspapers, fellow online community newsers and tv stations. Some stories said a few dozen folks were there, others a hundred. I’m calling it about 250 after counting. Nonetheless, there was some wider coverage of the controversy in airtime and word counts. But the turnpike still comes. No doubt until the bulldozers come, the fight will continue.
The Harrah City council meets Thursday evening. A good portion of the 100 rooftops OTA estimates it is affecting with the route belong to Harrah residents. This is Harrah’s first government meeting since everyone found that out.