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State leaders unveil $900M plan to overhaul turnpike system

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — State officials launched an ambitious four-year roads plan Thursday, saying they want to issue nearly $900 million in bonds to pay for the expansion and renovation of Oklahoma's turnpike system, including new tollways in Tulsa and Oklahoma City.

Gov. Mary Fallin said the new $892 million Oklahoma Turnpike Authorityproject would be funded through existing revenues generated by state toll roads and could result in rate hikes of up to 16 percent. None of it will be funded through general appropriations, she said.

"One of our basic building blocks of a strong economy is having good, quality infrastructure — roads and bridges — in our state," Fallin said. "People want to be able to live in places with minimum congestion, and if you've looked around lately at Oklahoma City or Tulsa or some other areas, there's beginning to be a bit of congestion around our state."

Fallin said about 1.1 million people currently live in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, a number expected to increase to about 1.6 million by 2040.

"If we do nothing ... we're going to have a major crisis on our hands when it comes to congestion and safety," she said.

State Secretary of Transportation Gary Ridley said officials are ready to begin issuing requests for proposals this week and hope to complete all of the projects by the spring of 2019, although he acknowledged that timeline was ambitious.

Oklahoma's per-mile toll rate is less than 10 cents per passenger vehicle — nearly 60 percent below the national average, he said. Ridley added that about 40 percent of all toll revenues come from out-of-state drivers, an amount that totaled $110 million in 2014.

Oklahoma Turnpike Authority Executive Director Tim Stewart says a consultant has begun a toll feasibility analysis that will determine how much toll costs will increase, but that it could be up to 16 percent.

"Our history has been that as a rate increase occurs, we apply it systemwide," Stewart said. "We don't see deviating from that current practice.

The list of projects include:

— $28 million for a new 2.5-mile Gilcrease Turnpike that connects L.L. Tisdale to Interstate 44 and completes a western loop in Tulsa,

— $42 million for a 9.5-mile reconstruction of the Muskogee Turnpike between the Creek Turnpike interchange and State Highway 51 near Coweta,

— $300 million to reconstruct the Turner Turnpike between Bristow and the Creek Turnpike,

— $32 million to reconstruct the HE Bailey Turnpike and toll plazas between Bridge Creek and Newcastle,

— $190 million for a 7-mile extension connecting the Kilpatrick Turnpike with southwest Oklahoma City, including a new route to Will Rogers World Airport,

— $300 million for a 21-mile loop linking Interstates 40 and 44 in eastern Oklahoma County.

To view the original article on Chron, please click HERE.

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