Truckers avoiding turnpikes because of toll increase

Thursday, February 8th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Several trucking company's say a 30 percent hike in turnpike tolls will force them to bypass Oklahoma's turnpike system. But the Oklahoma Transportation Authority says it doesn't understand that move saying the industry was told of the needed increase two years ago.

"Our people are very upset about this," said George Tomek, executive director of the Oklahoma Trucking Association. "This couldn't come at a worse time."

Missouri-based Transportation Distribution Co., has already turned in about 100 of the turnpike authority's Pike Passes and has begun to reroute trucks to state highways and free divided highways.

The authority effected the increase Jan. 1 to pay for 50 miles of turnpike extensions approved by the agency's Oversight Bond Commission three years ago.

Spokeswoman Terri Angier said the toll hikes are necessary to pay for extensions to the Kilpatrick Turnpike in Oklahoma City, the Creek Turnpike in Tulsa and the H.E. Bailey Turnpike.

Angier said the authority told the trucking industry when the bonds were approved two years ago to finance the expansion of those turnpikes that a toll hike would be necessary.

"We have to pay for our roads, much like they have to pay for their business expenses," she said.

Because of the damage that trucks inflict on roads, the toll hikes could have been higher, she said, but the authority kept the increase down because the trucking industry is a frequent turnpike traveler and is important to the state's economy.

The toll increase will be an added burden to trucking companies already dealing with skyrocketing diesel fuel prices and rising insurance costs, Tomek said.

While the toll increase may not drive Oklahoma trucking companies out of business, it will add thousands of dollars to monthly turnpike bills, said David McCorkle, owner of McCorkle Truck Line.

McCorkle said his turnpike bill has jumped from $5,000-a-month to about $8,000. He's rerouting his trucks wherever possible.

"Anytime we got a stretch of 'pike and we can run on an old road instead, we do it," he said. "You've got to look at your schedule and where you've got to be, and if you've got time, be more economical."

Several lawmakers have introduced legislation to reign in the turnpike authority's power, which they say is out of control.

Sen. Charles Ford, R-Tulsa, authored SJR 6 which would increase the state gasoline tax from 16 cents to 22 cents a gallon, and diesel fuel from 13 cents to 22 cents a gallon, with the increased revenue going toward retiring turnpike bonds.

Ford's proposal would also prohibit the authority from issuing any more debt after Jan. 1, 2003, unless its existing bonds had been paid.

Rep. Ron Kirby, D-Lawton, has introduced HB 1856 which would change a toll road into a free road once 150 percent of its construction cost had been paid.

He said toll roads were needed when they were built, but are now hurting tourism and economic development.

"The turnpike authority is very arrogant," Kirby said. "They are raising tolls without a public hearing. They do not answer to anyone. They've lost touch with what the people of Oklahoma are thinking."