Operational changes within the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority and the state's transportation programming in general have contributed to a decrease in public complaints in recent years, state transportation officials say.
Oklahoma government as a whole has been working toward better transparency and the Turnpike Authority is no exception, said Gary Ridley, secretary of transportation.
An extensive update to the authority's website about eight years ago brought about links to annual and long-term financial reports and projections, budgets and capital plans and bondholder reports. Additionally, a culture change in the Legislature — by which lawmakers decided to exchange operational control for more stringent oversight — improved the authority's legitimacy, Ridley said.
“I think you'll find very few states in the country where that's the case, that projects and corridors aren't decided by the political arm of the government, that the transportation officials make the recommendations of where the funds are spent,” he said.
Though the authority logs about 1,000 individual complaints annually, most come from turnpike users who don't fully understand how the system works.
Most legitimate complaints filed with the authority in recent years regard the condition of restrooms and facilities at the authority's 11 service plazas, spokesman Jack Damrill said.
The authority is in the process of overhauling half of those, including an $11 million rebuild of the so-called “Glass House” in Vinita within the next year.
Sen. Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa, said transportation planning is going the way of the rest of state government — open, transparent and responsive to citizen complaints.
“A lot of the criticisms have been dealt with over the past four years,” he said. “For 100 years it was which senator or representative was sitting on the transportation committee, and they steered funds wherever they thought it should go. That's over. Now we have a research-based plan that is dependent on traffic conditions, safety for citizens and looking at where do we need to improve our roads and bridges.”