Saying he believes a controversial turnpike program offered by Governor Frank Keating will ultimately be revived, a state legislator is pushing forward with an interim legislative study of Oklahoma's existing toll road system and Keating's plans to expand it.
"I don't believe for a minute that we've seen the last of Governor Keating's toll roads," said Senator Bruce Price.
"Before we consider expansion of our current system, we need to focus on the OTA's existing debt. We need to pay it off so we can explore the possibility of someday making our toll roads free roads."
Governor Keating's program would raise tolls statewide to build new turnpikes in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
The Governor's toll road plan was put on hold last week when the Executive and Legislative bond oversight commissions requested additional information from him. Keating has 60 days to respond to questions posed by those panels.
"Things got a little hot for the Governor and he bailed out. I suspect he'll let things cool down a little bit and then he'll make another push for new toll roads, probably after November," said Senator Price.
Senator Price has questioned the $525 million price tag of the project, the size of the proposed toll increase and the lack of public input on the plan.
In addition to those issues, the Hinton legislator said his committee will examine the OTA's current operational status and pursue the many unanswered questions about the Keating toll road package, namely:-What are the implications of doubling the OTA's current debt as proposed by Governor Keating? (OTA is currently more than $600 million in debt.)
-Why does Governor Keating's program cost more than former Governor Walters' turnpike package when it builds less road? (According to the OTA, Keating's plan would cost $16.3 million per turnpike mile, Walters cost $6.8 million. Keating's plan to extend the Kilpatrick turnpike in Oklahoma City would cost $20 million more than the same effort would have under Walters.)
-Would a 10 percent toll increase be enough to finance the new turnpike construction or would a higher increase be more likely? (Gov. Walters had projected a larger increase to fund his program.)
-Do the Kilpatrick and Turner Turnpikes currently carry similar traffic loads?
-Why was no public input sought before the OTA approved the Keating program? (The program was approved one day after it was leaked to a newspaper.)
"We need to get the answers to those questions before Governor Keating or anyone else makes another run at new turnpikes," said Senator Price.
In addition to seeking those answers, the interim committee will solicit public input on the current turnpike system and Keating's expansion plans.
"We found out pretty quickly that people have a lot to say about turnpikes if given the opportunity to speak their mind. I want to hear their opinions," said Senator Price.
The legislator also pointed out that public opinion was a key factor in the turnpike plans of former Governor Walters. Walters revised his toll road program several times during his administration to reflect mounting opposition.
"We saw several different turnpike programs from Governor Walters during his administration, and the same thing could happen under Governor Keating," said Senator Price.
Just six months ago, Governor Keating said he had no turnpikes plans, then revealed a $525 million expansion program in June.
"I'd like to believe the Keating toll roads are dead and gone, but I suspect the Governor may have a few more turnpikes up his sleeve," said Senator Price.