5 Years Left For Oklahoma's Turnpike Safety Upgrade

Wednesday, July 24th 2019, 9:10 pm
By: Emory Bryan

The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority is adding cable median barriers on 19 miles of the Muskogee Turnpike, completing the safety upgrade that will take 5 more years to complete on the turnpike system.

Median barriers, whether they’re made of concrete or cables, practically eliminate median crossover collisions, which are often severe because vehicles can collide head-on at high speeds.

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The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority reports 136 vehicles have hit barriers so far this year, without crossing the median. Just over half of the highway miles on the turnpikes have the safety feature.

Broken Arrow Pastor David Willets believes median barriers could have saved the lives of his wife and daughter.

“They might have been injured but it's unlikely they would have died. There's just not enough separation, at least on that turnpike” said Willets.

His wife, Leesa, and daughter, Lauryn, were killed in a 2004 crash on the Indian Nations Turnpike near McAlester. Their car crossed the median during a rainstorm and was hit by a vehicle going the opposite direction. Willets said his wife died immediately and his daughter died on the way to the hospital in McAlester.

He’s turned his tragedy into a ministry helping others with their grief, including writing two books about grief recovery.

He believes the Turnpike Authority should build more barriers, faster than what they have planned.

“They're doing it 15 years too late in my circumstance. I don't think the OTA should build another inch of turnpike before they invest the money on all the turnpikes that don't have significant barriers," said Willets. 

Tuesday the Authority awarded a contract for construction of the Gilcrease Turnpike in Tulsa, which will be built with barriers. The OTA said it will take another five years to complete barrier construction on the remaining turnpikes without them.

OTA Spokesman Jack Damrill said, “We have completed, so far with the Muskogee project once it's complete, it will be 165 miles of new barriers that we've installed since 2013. We still have about 5 years to go in the plan to install cable barriers on all turnpikes.”

The project on the Muskogee Turnpike is costing $5.8 million. Cables will replace a grassy mound in the median that doesn't always stop cars from crossing over. The OTA says there are 135 miles of turnpike where barriers are planned.

On the current timeline, they'll be done 20 years after Pastor Willets’ wife and daughter were killed.