Drivers along Oklahoma turnpikes will see an increase in tolls, after members of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority voted to make a change in fees.

The combined 17 percent increase came in December, after the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled in favor of validating the $480 million bond issue, designed to fund construction of new toll roads in the Tulsa and Oklahoma City areas, as well as help expand and renovate the state's existing turnpike system.

OTA spokesman Jack Damrill said the authority will begin selling the bonds in mid-January. 

Once the bonds are sold, Damrill said, tolls will increase initially by 12 percent on Feb. 1, with an additional 2.5 percent increase on Jan. 1, 2018.

The third increase will be evaluated by the OTA to see if it is needed, and could include another 2.5 percent raise in July 2019. The toll increases will impact drivers on all Oklahoma turnpike toll roads. 

Damrill said if travelers drive from Tulsa to the Missouri state line on the Will Rogers Turnpike, it will increase the cash rate by approximately 50 cents.

About the increase

Governor Mary Fallin and The OTA announced last year the launch of “Driving Forward: Investing in Oklahoma’s Future,” an extensive expansion and improvement plan that will lay the groundwork for the future of turnpike transportation in the state.

Damrill said the tolls will increase to help fund upcoming expansion projects and new projects.

“We started an initiative called ‘Driving Forward,’” Damrill said. “We are adding a couple turnpikes to our system.

"This [toll increase] will help pay for that. We’re going to sell bonds mid-January and this first initial bond sale will be about $480 million, so this toll increase will help fund that, as well as funding the expansion projects that we’re doing and the new projects that we’re doing.”

According to OTA officials, the “Driving Forward” plan will include six six large-scale projects that will modernize, enhance and improve safety, reduce congestion and support population growth on the Turnpike system at an estimated cost of $892 million issued via bonds.

The project is to be funded fully by bonds and will not impact other areas of the state budget. No funds will be diverted from other state projects to fund the program. 

“We hope to have all of the projects completed in four years,” Damrill said.

The “Driving Forward” initiative is a way for the OTA to look towards the future, Damrill said.

“As transportation professionals, we have to look 10-20 years down the road, and we are seeing some safety issues, not only in our system but on the state system,” Damrill said. “We’ve been asked to step in and help add a couple routes that we think will relieve traffic in Oklahoma City.

"We’re expanding our system to relieve some safety issues that we have. It’s all about safety for us, and this is why we’re going to six-laning the Turner Turnpike from Tulsa to Bristow and see what happens after that. We’re also looking at other spots but nothing to announce, yet.”

Damrill said the toll route at the Peoria/Elm Interchange on the Creek Turnpike in Jenks, will go into effect in early January, rather than the original February deadline. It will include an all-electronic tolling system at this toll only.

All-electronic tolling technology allows motorists to continue through a toll plaza without stopping to pay a toll, whether they have a PIKEPASS or not. A camera in the plaza takes a photo of the vehicle’s license plate as the vehicle passes through and OTA will then distribute an invoice to the customer.

PIKEPASS customers will continue through the plaza as normal. There will no longer be a need to stop and pay cash at toll plazas, making the turnpike system faster, safer and easier.

“If you’re a cash customer, we will send you an invoice,” Damrill said. “It’s going to be expensive if you’re a cash customer. That’s why we do encourage those who do pay with cash to get a PIKEPASS because the cash rate will be more than double the PIKEPASS rate, so it will definitely save them money to be a PIKEPASS customer.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 

Upcoming Turnpike projects

There are six individual projects which will modernize the roadways and improve safety throughout the state. Details for the projects are as follows:

Gilcrease Expressway • Project Length: 2.5 miles • Cost: $28 million from OTA and partnership with City of Tulsa • Type: New road construction • Overview: This project connects L.L. Tisdale to I-44 and completes the Western loop around the Tulsa metro area. It will help relieve urban traffic congestion during peak periods. It will also provide a new and more direct route to city attractions and points of interest in the Tulsa urban core. This will bolster safe access to Tulsa along with economic growth and opportunity. (Damrill said this project is undecided and currently in discussion with the City of Tulsa.)

Muskogee Turnpike • Project Length: 9.5 miles • Cost: $42 million • Type: Reconstruction from “ground-up” for safety and modernization of toll plaza • Overview: This reconstruction will occur between Creek Turnpike interchange and State Highway 51 near Coweta. It will allow for a safer and more drivable surface and provide increased safety features such as improved lighting and wider lanes.

Turner Turnpike • Project Length: 22 miles • Cost: $300 million • Type: Reconstruction for more lanes and safety features including lights and other future safety enhancements • Overview: The Turner Turnpike is a vital turnpike corridor that connects Oklahoma’s two metro areas. Improving safety and convenience on this road is a priority for the OTA. This reconstruction/safety project will occur between Bristow and the Creek Turnpike West (State Highway 364) section of the Turner Turnpike. In the last five years there have been 15 fatalities and 514 wrecks on this section of road. This project will create an “urban turnpike corridor” with lighting, wider lanes and the addition of lanes. It will allow for the future creation of truck-specific and HOA lanes for quick and safe access.

HE Bailey Turnpike • Project Length: 7.5 miles • Cost: $32 million • Type: Turnpike reconstruction for lanes and safety features and toll plaza modernization for better access for PikePass customers • Overview: This project will provide wider lanes and enhanced safety features for travel as well as improved technology for toll plaza locations for customer convenience between Bridge Creek and North Meridian Avenue near Newcastle.

Southwest OKC Kilpatrick Extension • Project Length: 7 miles • Cost: $190 million • Type: New construction • Overview: This project will be an extension of the Kilpatrick Turnpike that will connect SW OKC and the metro area at-large with the urban core. It will increase access and offer another route for Will Rogers World Airport. It will occur between I-40 and State Highway 152/Airport Road.

Northeast OK County Loop • Project Length: 21 miles • Cost: $300 million • Type: New construction • Overview: This project will allow for a connection from Eastern Oklahoma County to vital intersections for travel. This will produce a drive-time reduction to access Tulsa from the OKC Metro and a needed new loop to alleviate current congested traffic in the Oklahoma City area. Construction will link I-40 and I-44 (Turner Turnpike) in Eastern Oklahoma County.

For more information about this initiative and the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, persons interested may visit www.DrivingForwardOK.com.

Source: The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority.