Are Oklahoma Toll Roads Here To Stay?

Wednesday, July 15th 2009, 10:14 pm
By: News On 6

By Chris Wright, The News On 6

TULSA, OK -- The turnpike toll hike has some viewers wondering if Oklahoma will ever be able to pay off its toll roads.  Jo Ellen from Bristow wrote The News On 6 and asked:  "How come the state of Kentucky can keep its promises and take the toll booths down as each toll road bond issue is paid off and Oklahoma can't?"

Average Daily Traffic
on Oklahoma's Turnpikes
Turner - 43,148
Will Rogers - 38,830
H.E. Bailey - 45,042
Mukogee - 28,397
Cimarron - 18,629
Indian Nation - 17,283
Kilpatrick - 96,419
Cherokee - 10,846
Creek - 99,010
Chickasaw - 2,425
Jo Ellen is right about Kentucky.   It no longer has toll roads.  But, don't expect that to happen in the Sooner State for at least another two decades.

07/15/2009  Related Story: Oklahoma Turnpike Tolls Going Up In August

Drivers who travel Oklahoma's turnpikes are already used to paying tolls.  Now they'll pay more, 16% more.  The hike will make up for a revenue shortfall, but it's not likely to be a popular move.  Even the head of the Downtown Tag Agency is already complaining.

"It seems like we're taxed pretty heavily enough.  As the tolls go up, it's one more expense that you've got to account for," said Devon Jones with the Downtown Tag Agency.

But, there are plenty highways to maintain.  Per capita, Oklahoma has more miles of toll roads than any other state.  We average 168 miles for every one million people.  That's almost twice as much as number two, Kansas.

"People spend a little bit more money to drive our turnpikes so, they expect a little higher service from us. And, this will allow us to keep that service up," said the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority's Jack Damrill.

Oklahoma hopes to follow the example of Kentucky, which has spent the past 20 years tearing down its toll booths.  As of 2006, it is toll free.        

The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority says tolls are necessary until the debt on roads here is paid off, and it will be a while before that happens.

"Once our debt is paid, it's scheduled to be paid off in 2028, we have said and always said, unless we incur any new debt, the roads would be free in 2028," said the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority's Jack Damrill.

While the Turnpike Authority has nearly 20 years to accomplish that, it's a goal that some say just isn't realistic.

"If their history is any indication, I don't look for that in the future," said Devon Jones with the Downtown Tag Agency.

There are costs that come with getting rid of tolls.  Kentucky pays for maintenance on its roads by taxing fuel and new vehicle sales.