Citizens Fight Back As Oklahoma Announces More Toll Roads
How is it that Oklahoma has motor vehicle taxes consisting of excise and sales tax, fuel and use tax, tagging and licensing to fund roads, yet when given the choice they're choosing to build additional toll roads instead of maintaining and improving existing roads?
Here's where the story begins...
If you spend enough time in the OKC metro, you already know the stretch of I-35 that connects OKC to Norman isn't the nicest road in the state to drive. Not only is it falling apart like most high-use Oklahoma roads, but the traffic congestion during the daily and weekend commutes is also enough to make anyone road rage a little.
As the obvious solution is to make improvements to that stretch of I-35, the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority has opted to invoke "eminent domain" over private property and build a new toll road through Norman, connecting it and Moore to our capital city for profit.
Here's the rub... They're already connected to OKC via one of America's OG interstates. The proposed new toll road would extend the Kickapoo (pronounced just as it's spelled) Turnpike north to Oklahoma City.
Here's the fight that could set a precedence for the future of Oklahoma highway travel... Norman residents, the local city council, and even the Norman mayor's office has gotten involved in the fight against "another toll road in Oklahoma."
Those of us that call Southwest Oklahoma "home" are all-too-aware of toll road promises. The H.E. Bailey Turnpike that connects OKC to Lawton and on down to Wichita Falls, Texas. It was proposed at the same time that the other big Oklahoma turnpike toll roads were pitched, and the biggest holdup in the process of building was Oklahoma's governor at the time, Roy J. Turner.
Governor Turner, who the Turner Turnpike is named after, fought tooth and nail for an established plan to eventually make turnpikes free to use for the general public. As in once the tolls pay for the road, the road becomes free to travel... a battle in which our governor won... but there's a dirty little catch in how turnpike proponents went about getting that signature.
Still to this day in Oklahoma, it remains the law that when a toll road is finally paid for, it is to be free to travel, but the manner in which both sides of the issue agreed is keeping all of our turnpikes costing an arm and a leg.
The agreed proposal was a plan called "cross-pledging" where all toll roads pay for all other toll roads. In other words, as long as there's at least one toll road to pay for, all turnpikes remain toll roads. This is also why the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority is pressing so hard and fast to build new toll roads. Once they're paid off, the OTA has no further reason to exist, and the entrenched bureaucrats that siphon a ridiculously inflated living off of travelers' nickels and dimes won't be forced out of a job due to gross efficiency.
In plain English, every time a new toll road is built, all toll roads may then collect additional tolls for at least 40-ish years. As the tolls begin to pay off previous projects, new projects have to be started in order to keep collecting tolls...
That "cross-pledging" payment structure is why the H.E. Bailey Turnpike still costs money to use even though it was paid off in the 1980s.
Can you see what's wrong with this situation?
While the legal battle between Norman and the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority will be a fun one to watch, the decision will likely go the OTA's way. After all, what government bureaucrat wants to collect less tax revenue?