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Oklahoma governor announces new metro area turnpikes, other improvement

Plans for six major Oklahoma turnpike projects — including two that will involve the construction of new toll roads in the Oklahoma City metro area — were unveiled Thursday by Gov. Mary Fallin and state turnpike officials.

The cost of the projects is estimated at a combined $892 million, officials said.

Fallin praised the plans as “a comprehensive blueprint for the state to modernize our turnpike system.”

One new stretch of turnpike, dubbed the Northeast Oklahoma County Loop, will require the construction of 21 miles of toll roads that will link Interstate 40 and the Turner Turnpike (Interstate 44) in the eastern part of the Oklahoma City metro area. The new turnpike is expected to link up with I-40 a few miles east of Tinker Air Force Base and the Choctaw Road interchange and extend north to hook up with the Turner Turnpike near Luther, transportation officials said.

Designed to alleviate traffic congestion and reduce the drive time between Tulsa and the Oklahoma City metro area, the cost of that project alone is estimated at $300 million.

The second turnpike project in the Oklahoma City metro area is called the Southwest Oklahoma City Kilpatrick Extension.

That 7-mile project, projected to cost $190 million, will begin where the Kilpatrick Turnpike currently ends at I-40 in western Oklahoma County and extend south to link up with State Highway 152/Airport Road. It will make it easier for people to move between southwest Oklahoma City and the rest of the metro area and improve access to Will Rogers World Airport.

The precise routes for the two Oklahoma City turnpike projects have not yet been determined and will depend on environmental studies and land acquisition issues, officials said.

Turnpike officials want to choose routes that will have the least impact possible on homes and businesses in the areas, said Jack Damrill, director of communications for the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority.

Other four turnpike projects

• The Turner Turnpike reconstruction and widening project: This project will focus on a 22-mile stretch of the existing Turner Turnpike between Bristow and the west end of the Creek Turnpike near Tulsa. That stretch of the Turner Turnpike will be widened to six lanes, lane widths will be increased and lighting will be improved. It is expected to cost $300 million.

• The H.E. Bailey Turnpike reconstruction project: This $32 million project will involve widening lanes and reconstructing 7.5 miles of the H.E. Bailey Turnpike between Bridge Creek and North Meridian Avenue near Newcastle. The project is designed to improve safety and modernize the toll plaza for Pike Pass customers.

• The Gilcrease Expressway project: This project will involve the construction of 2.5 miles of new turnpike to connect L.L. Tisdale with I-44 and complete the western loop around the Tulsa metro area. It is projected to cost $28 million and is expected to relieve urban traffic congestion during peak travel times.

• The Muskogee Turnpike reconstruction project: This $42 million project will involve reconstructing 9.5 miles of the Muskogee Turnpike between the Creek Turnpike interchange and State Highway 51 near Coweta.

Funding, reasons for projects

The six projects will be funded by bond issues to be paid back with toll road revenues, said Gary Ridley, state transportation secretary. No state appropriated funds will be used.

Ridley said he anticipates a “modest” system-wide toll increase of somewhat less than 16 percent may be needed in 2017 or 2018 to help pay for the improvements. Growth revenues also will pay for some of the construction.

Between 38 and 40 percent of Oklahoma toll road revenues traditionally have come from out-of-state motorists, or about $110 million a year, he said.

Turnpike officials plan to work on all six projects simultaneously, he said. Requests for proposals will begin going out to consultants immediately, with a goal of completing the projects in about 3½ years, he said.

Tim Stewart, executive director of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, described that target completion date as “ambitious,” and said it may be difficult to complete the Oklahoma City area projects that quickly since environmental studies and land acquisition still need to be done. Some of the other projects may be completed faster than that, he said.

Fallin cited several justifications for the projects, including the need to improve safety.

On the 22-mile stretch of the Turner Turnpike that is set for reconstruction, there were 514 traffic accidents over the last five years that resulted in 15 fatalities and 411 injured motorists, she said.

The Oklahoma City area has about 1.1 million people, but the population is expected to increase to about 1.6 million by 2040, the governor said.

“If we don't start planning, we're going to have a major crisis on our hands when it comes to congestion, safety, transportation. ... Businesses, frankly, could choose not to locate to Oklahoma because of that ... if we don't address this issue early on,” she said.

State Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee, praised the governor and officials for moving forward now with the new turnpike in the eastern part of the Oklahoma City area.

“The timing of this is crucial because of the additional 3,000 jobs coming to Tinker Air Force Base with Boeing,” Sharp said. “But this isn't something that's just going to benefit the Oklahoma City metro. This will have a major impact on surrounding towns like Jones, Luther, Choctaw and Harrah. Our rural communities in eastern Oklahoma County have long needed this kind of infrastructure development to attract jobs and expand their local economies.”

“The ‘Driving Forward' plan is about ensuring safe travel, relieving congestion to shorten commutes and sustaining economic development for years to come,” Fallin said. “People want to be able to live in places with minimum congestion. They want well-maintained roads and bridges. ... All this means that it is essential that we continue to look forward ... to see what we need to do to plan for the future.”

Albert (Kell) Kelly, chairman of the Turnpike Authority's board of directors, said he expects new turnpike construction to spur economic development along the turnpike corridors. “Infrastructure drives economic development,” Kelly said.

Fallin agreed.

“As we open up these different routes to ease congestion, ... we'll also see the businesses, the neighborhoods, economic development and the investment in our economy that will come with this,” she said.

Ridley said there may be opportunities to develop tax increment financing districts along the turnpike corridors.

“We don't want to stifle growth, we want to encourage it,” he said.

Stewart said now is the time to expand.

“I know there might be some who would like for us to wait, or just do a little at a time, but the need is now and will become stronger in the future to make our system safer and easier for our customers,” he said.

To view the original article on NewsOK, click HERE.

Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman

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