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Falling traffic takes toll on Oklahoma turnpikes

MICHAEL MCNUTT Modified: July 16, 2009 at 9:36 am •  Published: July 16, 2009
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photo - Cars pass through the  PikePass lane on the Kilpatrick Turnpike in Oklahoma City, OK, Tuesday, June 2, 2009. By Paul Hellstern
Cars pass through the PikePass lane on the Kilpatrick Turnpike in Oklahoma City, OK, Tuesday, June 2, 2009. By Paul Hellstern
Hi
s firm suggested increases from 12 percent to 25 percent. He said most turnpikes are looking at increases from 25 percent to 50 percent.

Tomlinson said the authority wants to keep tolls on Oklahoma’s system as low as possible but still produce enough revenue to pay the turnpike’s payments on its $1.08 billion debt and provide enough money for necessary repairs and maintenance.

Kellie Glass of Yukon pleaded with authority members to postpone passing an increase, saying the hike would cause another burden on Oklahomans dealing with the recession.

Glass, who works for a physical therapist in northwest Oklahoma City, said she spends more than $40 a month on tolls to make the nearly 40-mile roundtrip every weekday. She said she and at least four others will turn in their Pikepass accounts today and take alternate routes; an alternate route will take about 20 minutes more each way for her to get to work, but it’s worth the money she’ll save, she said.

"People ... aren’t going to pay more,” Glass said.

Truckers also may avoid turnpikes because of the higher tolls, said Dan Case, executive director of the Oklahoma Trucking Association in an interview.

"It’s going to drive a few of the trucks off the toll roads into the parallel roads,” he said.

That could result in the alternate routes, many of which are two-lane roads, to require more maintenance, Case said. It also could result in more accidents.

Freight is down 20 percent in the U.S., and trucking companies and truckers are looking at ways to cut expenses, Case said.

"This is an expense you can cut,” he said.

Tomlinson said he understands the truckers’ frustrations because they pay about 4.5 times what a personal vehicle pays.

"It’s a tough deal. We’d a lot rather be able to do this in an up economy and good times.”


TURNPIKES IN OKLAHOMA

• The state’s first turnpike, the Turner Turnpike, opened in 1953. It was intended to be a free roadway by the time it was paid off.


• In 1954, more turnpikes were built and in 1955, state law was changed to allow two or more turnpikes to be combined and financed as one project. The change also allowed cross-pledging of revenues to help pay the obligations of all the turnpikes.


• The last toll increase was in 2001.


• While the state Transportation Department depends on legislative appropriations, the Turnpike Authority receives no tax money to operate the turnpikes.


• The Turnpike Authority has its own maintenance crews that work on the turnpikes.


• The Turnpike Authority still owes about $1.1 billion on bonds used to build the roads. It’s expected the roads could be paid off by 2028.


• Any new toll road or expansion requires legislative approval.


How much tolls will increase
The increases that take effect Aug. 4 vary on each toll road and with each destination on the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority system. Pikepass discounts of about 5 percent still apply. Some examples:


• The trip for a passenger vehicle motorist paying cash from Oklahoma City to Tulsa on the Turner Turnpike will increase 14 percent, from $3.50 to $4.


• The trip for a passenger vehicle motorist paying cash from Oklahoma City to Wichita Falls, Texas, on the H.E. Bailey Turnpike will increase 19 percent, from $4 to $4.75.


• The trip for a passenger vehicle motorist paying cash from Tulsa to the state line on the Will Rogers Turnpike will increase 14 percent, from $3.50 to $4.


• Tolls at various stops on the Creek Turnpike in Tulsa for passenger vehicles increase from 13 percent to 17 percent.


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