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Turnpike authority sees toll road improvements as 'significant investment in Oklahoma's future' as it develops 15-year plan

 Drivers travel a widened section of the Turner Turnpike.
Oklahoma Turnpike Authority
/
Drivers travel a widened section of the Turner Turnpike.

The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority will begin developing a 15-year plan for improving the state’s toll road system.

"Estimate with a capital E, we think the plan has probably got a value around $5 billion. So, it's a significant investment in Oklahoma's future," OTA Executive Director and Oklahoma Secretary of Transportation Tim Gatz told the turnpike authority board Tuesday during a report on the initiative.

OTA's previous long-term plan, Driving Forward, was for five years and about $900 million.

The cornerstone of the 15-year plan will be widening the remaining 70 miles of the Turner Turnpike between Tulsa and Oklahoma City.

"That has to happen. I've been asked 1,000 times since we started that widening project, 'When are you going to finish that to Oklahoma City?' Not just 'When?' but 'Hurry up.' And we have no answer," Gatz said.

Significant consideration will be given to adding access points to the turnpike system, which was designed with limited entries and exits when cash was the primary method of paying tolls. Gatz said that’s partly to help small towns with no easy access, but safety is the primary concern.

"When we have an accident out on some of our turnpikes that closes them, you can't get traffic off of them. You can't get folks turned around and out of that zone where we've had an accident," Gatz said.

Some major projects for the Tulsa area will make the list. Gatz said the Will Rogers Turnpike between U.S. 412 and Claremore is handling traffic volumes like the east end of the Turner Turnpike was when officials decided to widen it to six lanes. A complicating factor for widening the Will Rogers is its Verdigris River crossings.

"Those bridges will need to be widened, and they won't be inexpensive. It won't be an easy project, but it needs to be started," Gatz said.

And while the Gilcrease Expressway Extension in west Tulsa hasn’t even opened yet, Gatz said completing a northwest connection to Tisdale Parkway is also a priority.

"We talked extensively with the City of Tulsa about that while we were talking about the Gilcrease. Had no way to be able to engage at that point with a plan to deliver that project," Gatz said.

Another Tulsa-area project Gatz mentioned is maintenance and an improved ride on the Creek Turnpike bridges over Haikey (HAY-key) Creek.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.