OKLAHOMA turnpikes and trucks are not mixing

Wednesday, July 18th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Turnpikes are taking their toll on Oklahoma drivers, especially truck drivers. A lot of truckers are getting their kicks on Route 66, and Highway 69, and just about any other road without a toll.

KOTV's Emory Bryan says since tolls increased in January, more trucks are showing up on the free roads around the turnpikes. That's causing a traffic jam of trucks in some small towns. Downtown Vinita could be mistaken for a truck stop, if the trucks ever stopped. They don't. Day and night they flow through the middle of town. Clifford Hornback of Vinita: “Oh yeah, they have trucks, but nothing like what they've got now, it's probably 2 or 3 times the truck traffic now than there was before.”

Before was before the tolls went up on the turnpike last January, a 30% increase for trucks. In Vinita, and Afton, as the tolls went up, so did the traffic on the free roads through their towns. Truckers say they're avoiding the turnpikes. Trucker, Zach Moore, "everybody's doing it and if they keep increasing everybody will do it. The state is going to lose revenue." But in fact, the opposite has happened. Between June of 2000 and 2001, there are a few more trucks on the turnpike - a 1% increase. But the tolls they're paying increased by more than a million dollars - a 21% increase. Moore, who is from Greeneville, Texas: "The price went up, it's not my money, it's the boss's money, but it's too high, I just go around. It's a little further, but I just go around it." The toll increase is affecting the bottom line of truckers who stay on the turnpike and it's affecting the small communities along the roads where the truckers exit.

In Afton, truckers come off the turnpike and take the free roads, hoping to save some money. Moore: "If I have to go all the way through, I get on it, but if I've got an easy way around it, I'm not going to run it." There are still plenty of trucks taking the turnpike, and paying the $9 toll between Vinita and Tulsa. They haven't noticed much change in traffic here, but off the turnpike, in small towns the noise alone is a headache in the making. Hornback, "One right there, right now. It's really, traffic really got stronger after the turnpike raised their rates."

The toll between Vinita and Tulsa for trucks is $7.50. Several truckers we talked with ran the route several times a day - so they think those few dollars saved each trip really make a difference.