Tulsa toll bill advances; tolling authority transfer killed

| 4/1/2010

Two Oklahoma bills, which are attempting to add another toll road to the state’s system and shift tolling power, have taken different paths.

A bill nearing completion of its journey through the statehouse would have state lawmakers decide whether the state’s Turnpike Authority should consider building a new toll road in Tulsa.

The Senate Transportation Committee approved the bill authorizing the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority to conduct a toll feasibility study for the route. The bill – HB3220 – now moves to the full Senate. If approved there, it would head to Gov. Brad Henry’s desk. House lawmakers have already approved it.

With a price tag of about $200 million, the 10-mile stretch of road, commonly called the Gilcrease Extension, would link the Tulsa end of the Turner Turnpike to the L.L. Tisdale Expressway. It would also require a new bridge across the Arkansas River.

The west Tulsa County road is the final phase in an outer Tulsa loop that includes part of the Creek Turnpike, U.S. 169, and completed sections of the Gilcrease Expressway. The road has been on city planning maps for nearly 50 years.

Supporters say the project needs to be completed to promote growth and economic development. Critics say it’s not economically feasible to finish the Gilcrease Expressway.

Another bill at the statehouse has met its demise. SB1773 sought to take decisions about increasing tolls out of the hands of the Turnpike Authority. The Senate voted 29-17 to kill the bill that required a two-thirds vote of the Legislature before tolls could be increased.

The Turnpike Authority now has sole responsibility for determining toll rates. Tolls were last increased in July 2009 by 16 percent. At the time, the authority claimed the bump in price was necessary because of an overall decline in traffic – but especially in commercial truck traffic – during the past couple of years.

The bill from Sen. Randy Brogdon, R-Owasso, would have also required legislative approval to issue bonds for the state’s turnpikes. Currently, legislative approval is only needed to build turnpikes.

The issue can be brought back for consideration during the 2011 regular session.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Oklahoma in 2010, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

Editor’s Note: Please share your thoughts with us about the legislation included in this story. Comments may be sent to statelegislativedesk@ooida.com.