OKLAHOMA CITY - A state legislator is questioning a toll road expansion and rate hike program quietly engineered by Governor Frank Keating in recent weeks, saying the Governor owes the public a more detailed explanation about the controversial turnpike package. Senator Bruce Price is suggesting a series of public forums to gather citizen input.
"I think Oklahomans should have the opportunity to speak their minds before Governor Keating arbitrarily raises tolls on every turnpike and plunges the state a half a billion dollars into debt," said Senator Price.
"If the Governor listens to the people, especially those in rural Oklahoma, he's probably going to find out they're isn't much support for raising toll rates."
Under Governor Keating's program, tolls would be raised by at least 10 percent statewide to pay for the turnpike extensions in Tulsa and Oklahoma City. The Hinton legislator pointed out that the Governor hasn't explained why rural Oklahoma should support the package.
"I don't see why anyone outside of Oklahoma City or Tulsa should be paying higher tolls. Users of the H.E. Bailey, the Turner and the other turnpikes are not going to benefit one iota from this program, yet Governor Keating is asking them to carry the financial load. That doesn't sound very fair to me," said Senator Price.
"It's going to be tough to explain to my constituents in Chickasha and Anadarko that they have to pay higher tolls on the Bailey so Governor Keating can expand toll roads in Oklahoma City and Tulsa that are lightly traveled."
In the days to come, Senator Price will be asking Governor Keating and the OTA to supply specific documentation of their turnpike projections, saying he's skeptical about the numbers he's seen so far.
"Some of their estimates and projections raise questions to say the least," said Senator Price, referring specifically to a traffic count that indicates the Kilpatrick Turnpike and the heavily traveled Turner Turnpike carry similar daily loads, 20,000 and 24,000 vehicles a day respectively, according to Governor Keating.
"Anyone who ever has driven the Kilpatrick and the Turner is going to take exception to that claim. I think the Governor accidentally put one too many zeroes in the Kilpatrick traffic count.
"That concerns me because if their traffic counts are wrong, the toll increase is going to be higher than 10 percent."
The Senator is suggesting that Governor Keating hold town meetings in communities along Oklahoma's turnpikes and ask the people if they support paying higher toll rates to build turnpike extensions in the state's two major urban areas.
"I don't think there's going to be much public support for the program, and I don't think Governor Keating helped his case much by making this such a hush-hush deal, " said Senator Price, noting that the public was never informed about the turnpike effort until the day it was approved by the OTA last month.
A similar program offered by former Governor David Walters was the subject of numerous public forums and discussions before it reached the stage that the latest program is now. The bond oversight commissions will vote on the Keating toll road program at the end of the month.
"If this is such a great program, why was it kept secret for so long? In all our discussions about transportation this legislative session, not once did anyone mention Governor Keating's turnpike program or the fact that he planned to raise tolls statewide to finance it," said Senator Price.
"I just think we need to slow the train down a little bit and take a closer look at this thing before it takes us somewhere we really can't afford to go.
"This toll road program is going to have financial repercussions for years to come. Oklahomans should be able to give their opinions before the fact, not after it's already a done deal."