OKLAHOMA CITY - A controversial turnpike program offered by former Governor David Walters would have built more road at a cheaper price than a turnpike package currently being advocated by Governor Frank Keating, according to a state legislator.
"The Walters program was the deal of the century compared to the Keating plan," said Senator Bruce Price. "It's costing Governor Keating twice as much to build his new turnpikes. The Keating toll road construction program just seems to be incredibly overpriced. "
According to documents provided by the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, Governor Keating is spending almost two and a half times as much for every mile of newly constructed turnpike. Based on OTA numbers, Governor Keating will pay $16.3 million for each mile of new toll road constructed. Under former Governor Walters' program, the per mile cost was just $6.8 million.
According to the OTA, the Keating program would build just 32.2 miles of turnpike at a cost of $525 million. The David Walters program would have built 64.5 miles of turnpike and added three new interchanges to existing toll roads for a cost of $441 million. Walters also wanted to spend another $155 million on maintenance of existing turnpikes for a total program cost of $596 million.
Both programs extended existing turnpikes in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, but the Walters plan also included a new toll road from Muskogee to Poteau.
"I certainly wasn't a fan of the Walters package, but it built twice as many miles of roadway as the Keating program, and it cost a lot less. Those statistics alone should send up a big red warning flag," said Senator Price.
On individual stretches of turnpike, the Walters program was also considerably less expensive than the Keating plan. For example, both governors proposed identical extensions of the Kilpatrick turnpike in Oklahoma City, yet under the Walters plan, the project would have cost $203 million. Under Keating, the estimated project cost is set at $224 million.
"I want to know why the Keating turnpike is so much more expensive," said Senator Price. "What has changed over the past two years to make the price tag skyrocket?
"There are just a lot of unanswered questions and curious circumstances surrounding this whole deal. We need to get some good, accurate answers from Governor Keating before this train travels any farther down the track."
The Hinton legislator also fears that Governor Keating has underestimated the size of a statewide toll increase that will be required to pay for his turnpike construction program. Keating claims he will only have to raise tolls by 10 percent statewide, even though the similar Walters program called for a much larger toll hike.
"My concern is that Governor Keating has underestimated the size of his toll increase, and that the actual rate hike will have to be a lot higher. What he says will be 10 percent may actually turn out to be 30 or even 50 percent. That's a pretty big bite out of Oklahoman's wallets," said Senator Price.
Senator Price has asked Governor Keating to hold a series of public forums on the turnpike construction program so Oklahomans can given their opinions, but the Governor has yet to respond to his request. Keating's Transportation Secretary has indicated that no such public input is planned.
A Comparison of the Keating/Walters Turnpike Programs
Frank Keating David Walters
New road miles.
32.2 miles 64.5 miles
New 'pike construction.
$525 million $441 million
Cost per mile.
$16.3 million $6.8 million (Comparison includes only bond-financed construction projects)
Based on data as provided by the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority.