OTA Facing Lawsuit Over Proposed Turnpike Expansions

KOKH-OKC - May 3, 2022 11:24 pm

The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority is facing a lawsuit over its proposed turnpike expansions in the state. The suit alleges that the authority’s current plans to build new turnpikes exceed its legal authority.

A petition filed in the Cleveland County District Court on Monday alleges that the OTA legally cannot build the South Extension, East-West Connector, or the Tri-City Connector in its ACCESS Oklahoma plan. Civil engineer and plaintiff in the case Amy Cerato is hoping this lawsuit will help put a stop to the OTA’s plans.

According to her, “We really want the supreme court to come down and tell the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority ‘no’ because they’ve never been told ‘no’ before.”

The suit alleges that the statute governing the OTA only permits the authority to build projects at locations authorized by the state legislature — and that those three parts of the ACCESS Oklahoma project fall outside that scope.

“Oklahoma is a law and order state… the basic premise of law and order is that you follow the law,” argued State Sen. Mary Boren (D-Norman).

Other parts of the ACCESS Oklahoma plan — like improvements to already existing turnpikes — do not run outside the law according to the court petition.

Cerato explained that, “We’re feeling really optimistic about this legal challenge because we’ve tried to talk to the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority about how these routes make no engineering sense, how they make no sense from an environment standpoint, how they are not authorized by law to even be building it, and… all of our arguments are falling on deaf ears.”

The OTA is requesting a $200 million line of credit from the Oklahoma Council of Bond Oversight for the project. That council will take up the authority’s request on Wednesday.

The council oversees financing requests from state agencies and authorities.

Sen. Boren asserted that, “If the bond counsel is approving a line of credit loan on a project that isn’t authorized by statute, that should cause them to hesitate loaning money to a project that is not legally authorized.” Pikeoff OTA, a group opposed to the turnpikes, will be at Wednesday’s meeting to encourage the bond council to deny the OTA’s request.

The ACCESS Oklahoma project is a $5 billion, 15-year-long plan to add turnpikes and improve existing ones in the state to address infrastructure needs, according to the turnpike authority.

The OTA shared that officials are evaluating the petition, as well as objections filed by attorneys Elaine Dowling and Robert Norman urging the bond council to deny the turnpike authority’s request for the line of credit.

 

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