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Freeway Fighters

Oklahoma Turnpike Authority Stops Work on $15 Billion Turnpike Expansion

Oklahoma’s freeway fighters are resting a little easier this week, having learned that the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority (OTA) is halting all work related to the $15 billion turnpike expansion, ACCESS Oklahoma.

Back in January, Strong Towns reported that Oklahoma residents took the OTA to court, arguing that its plans for a $15 billion turnpike expansion not only lacked transparency, but were illegal. The judge presiding agreed, ruling that the OTA “wilfully violated” Oklahoma’s Open Meetings Act. As a result, over 200 plaintiffs celebrated their first major legal victory in the fight against the project, known as ACCESS Oklahoma. On March 15, 2023, Oklahoma’s attorney general stepped in and seemingly sided with the plaintiffs, requesting an audit of the OTA.

Almost exactly a month later, OTA notified its board and consultants that all work on ACCESS will cease as of Friday, April 14, 2023. While the press release concludes with a pledge to resume the project once “roadblocks are resolved and a path to the bond market is clear,” opponents to the project are still encouraged by the news. At the very least, the devastation of hundreds of homes, businesses, and natural areas necessary for the project’s scope is being put on hold.

“The community has come together and has fought off the biggest bully in the state, and I think this is the first time in 70 years that the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority has ever lost or had to stop a proposed turnpike after they have already paid to have it designed,” Pike Off OTA President Dr. Amy Cerato said in a comment for NonDoc.

Nevertheless, for Cerato and many Oklahomans, the fight isn’t over until the OTA is held accountable for its surreptitious practices. In a press release dated April 12, Pike Off OTA, a group that mobilized against ACCESS since the project “surprised” Oklahomans in February 2022, wrote:

This $5 billion, all-or-nothing approach has been an exercise in questionable judgment and lack of transparency from the beginning. If the OTA is truly putting the safety of its patrons first, why has the OTA  prioritized the pursuit of questionable, contested new alignments over much needed maintenance and improvement obligations on existing toll roads?

While the project is currently on hold, the findings of the audit issued by the Attorney General are still pending. “I am certain that the investigative audit I have ordered is needed now more than ever,” Attorney General Drummond said in a statement. Pike Off OTA is likewise eager to see what the investigative audit may reveal about the OTA. “It is time for all Oklahomans to insist on transparency, accountability, and lawful conduct from our government agencies,” the group concluded in their press release.

This article originally appeared on Strong Towns and is republished with permission. 

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