Will Rogers Turnpike Slowdown On Sunday Has Motorists Asking ' Why?'

Monday, November 27th 2006, 10:06 am
By: News On 6

Hundreds of Oklahoma motorists weren't so thankful after coming back from a holiday weekend. Thousands found traffic backed up for miles on the Will Rogers Turnpike. It happened Sunday evening near Vinita. Some frustrated drivers are still looking for answers.

News on 6 reporter Heather Lewin says cars and trucks slowed to a crawl, leaving many drivers simply stuck. As far as reasons why, turnpike officials simply say construction and heavy traffic is a bad combination.

From the construction zone near Big Cabin, all the way back to the toll plaza, more than six miles of stop and go traffic.

It started in the early evening hours Sunday, and just kept getting worse. Construction eventually forced motorists to creep forward in just one lane. Fearing a major accident, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol ultimately decided to get people off the road. Jack Damrill with the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority: "They diverted traffic off of the turnpike into Vinita onto highway 69, then back onto the turnpike at a later route."

A move made for safety, that for some, added an extra hour to the trip home. Turnpike officials say the problem is just about everyone comes back from Thanksgiving travel at the same time. "With the volume of traffic going through there, it's just a matter of fact that it's going to back up, people slow down, people behind them slow down, so it does back up."

Another factor that can slow holiday traffic is the number of cars coming through from out of state, people without a pike pass who have to stop and find change. But some frequent travelers say it hasn't been such a big problem in the past and that construction lanes were temporarily opened to accommodate the holiday volume. Damrill says that would be a public safety risk and the best thing to do is try not to travel at peak times. "Nowadays the turnpikes are so heavily traveled, through construction sites a backup is going to happen, it's inevitable."

There were no reported accidents due to the backup.

The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority isn't taking any special steps for the Christmas holiday, because they don't expect a repeat of last night. They say Christmas travel is staggered and not usually all on the same night.