OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) — Seven of nine members of the House Transportation Committee voted Thursday to pass Senate Bill 1610, which focuses on expanding the toll highway along of the southern extension of Cleveland County. Many wonder why the legislature was not informed until after the project was announced to the public.
Lawmakers said the bill arose as a result of a lack of communication from the OTA about the Access Oklahoma long-term highway infrastructure plan.
“I found out about this toll road from constituents who called me while I was working and this to me was unacceptable,” Representative Danny Sterling, R-Tecumseh, told KFOR on Thursday. His district represents Cleveland and Pottawatomie counties.
The bill seeks to slow the planned expansion of the tollway through the Access Oklahoma project by requiring the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority (OTA) to conduct more studies on the southern extension, addressing a myriad of topics, including the specific impact the proposed route would have on residents. and companies and whether alternative routes have been considered by the OTA.
OTA Legislative Liaison attended the meeting, answering questions about the project schedule, right-of-way acquisition, and estimates of the number of homes and landowners that could be affected.
“We are very concerned about the public and the deployment and we recognize that it could have been handled better,” said Jordan Perdue. “We try to be as responsive as possible.
Jessica Brown, who is director of strategic communications for the Oklahoma Transportation Cabinet, also acknowledged the failed communication, but said the agency had contacted the governor and OTA board members. before unveiling the proposals. She was not present for Thursday’s vote.
“I understand that lawmakers’ laws want to be the ones that inform their constituents about things like this. And that’s generally the process we go through in this plan,” she continued, adding that they would be making plans to improve communication in the future.
If progress on the bill progresses and additional studies are performed, the OTA would also be required to provide a report containing the findings to Governor Kevin Stitt, the Speaker of the House, and the Speaker Pro Tempore of the Senate at least 180 days before receiving the bond financing for the construction.
In pushing for the bill, Rep. Sterling insisted he wanted transparency and accountability from the OTA, but denied that it was closing the door on progress.
“I understand that progress has to be made and we have to move forward…it affects our economy, it also affects our state as a whole,” Sterling said. “[But] I have to make sure that the voices of my constituents are heard both for and against.
“It matters. It’s where you live, so it matters,” added Rep. Regina Goodwin, D-Tulsa. “People need to know if their homes are going to be destroyed, they need to know if they’re going to be moved and they need to know well in advance what the plan is, they need to be planned with and not planned.
Rep. Denise Crosswhite Hader, R-Piedmont, who voted against the measure, questioned whether the bill has the potential for overreach.
“Do you share my concerns that this sends us back to the legislature by overstating its authority? she asked Representative Sterling.
“If everything is up and up – and everything is transparent and accountable – why shouldn’t they be able to handle that level of scrutiny,” he replied.
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