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Home » What is the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority Hiding?

What is the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority Hiding?

The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority (OTA) has proposed rolling five billion dollars further into debt for improvement projects on existing turnpikes and constructing three new toll roads. They already sit nearly $2 billion US dollars in debt. In their 70 plus years of existence, the OTA has never had an audit conducted by the Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector. They do conduct internal audits, but I’m reminded of the fox guarding the hen house.

A group of concerned citizens thought something needed to change. With the help of State Auditor Cindy Byrd, State Representative Danny Sterling and State Senator Mary Boren coauthored House Concurrent Resolution (HCR) 1021, which called for a performance audit of the OTA. Several representatives and senators also signed on as coauthors.

If the OTA had nothing to hide, then why did they full court press to stop HCR 1021? It was a struggle to get HCR1021 on the house agenda. Finally, on the second to the last day of the session, the House Floor Leader called it up and it passed by unanimous consent and moved to the Senate.

For the Senate to even consider HCR1021 it needed to be placed on the agenda at least 24 hours before being considered. On the last day of the session, Senator Boren filed a rare motion to suspend the rules to hear HCR1021. A bipartisan group of 24 Senators voted yes to pass the motion and hear HCR1021, but that was not enough; the motion needed a super majority of 32 to pass.

Why did the OTA push so hard to stop this resolution?

Are they afraid that Oklahomans will find out that only three (Turner, Kilpatrick, Will Rogers) of the eleven turnpikes pay for themselves and that the OTA is barely able to service its current debt? There have been obvious recent financial distress signals. In July 2020, the OTA closed on a $50-million-dollar Junior Obligation Note, and transferred it all to their Revenue Maintenance Fund.[1] In May 2022, they requested a $200-million-dollar line of credit to fund improvement projects for the new ACCESS program; although they were restricted from using it on new alignments due to pending litigation.[2] Then, only a month later, in an emergency June 9th meeting, the OTA voted to terminate the Credit Agreement with Wells Fargo Bank and approved the issuance of $1 Billion dollars in Series 2022A Revenue Bonds to refinance their Second Senior Revenue Bonds Series 2017A and Junior Obligation Note.

Why? Why take $1 Billion in new money to pay off nearly $1 Billion in debt?

Why don’t their current toll roads generate enough money for maintenance and improvements; a 70-year failed business model? Will people find out that the traffic & toll revenue projections the OTA pays an outside firm to make and then use to justify the building of turnpikes have only been, on average, 63% accurate throughout the history of the OTA?[3] Why is the OTA conflating a need to upgrade existing turnpikes with a plea for unneeded new turnpikes? Is that the only way they can justify bond sales?

They could, and should, have turned the Turner and the rest of Oklahoma’s I-44 corridor into a free interstate long ago. Federal funds would have been available all these years to maintain and upgrade I-44, but they stubbornly refuse to do so. Now, the OTA is stuck with a perpetual loop of an outdated, decaying infrastructure, and a “feasibility” problem with fixing their 627 miles of toll roads; the second most miles of toll roads in the U.S.[4] Fixing and improving these turnpikes won’t bring in enough additional revenue to justify a feasible revenue bond issue for the cost of doing so.

The only answer they have is to bundle unneeded new turnpikes with needed maintenance and improvement projects to justify bond sales to fund their Ponzi scheme.

We know this failed model is reaching a critical mass because now the OTA insists on the right to build legally unauthorized unnecessary turnpikes by executive and bureaucratic fiat, rather than going through the democratic process.  This is another example of representative democracy dying before our very eyes. Why can’t we get an audit of this instrumentality of the state? It is high time we were provided some answers and an investigative audit is a great place to start.

 

[1] Page 20, OTA Annual Comprehensive Financial Report 2021: https://oklahoma.gov/ota/investor-relations/annual-financial-report.html

[2] Council for Bond Oversight May 4, 2022 Meeting Agenda: https://oklahoma.gov/content/dam/ok/en/bonds/documents/meetings/2022/COBO%20Agenda_5.4.22.pdf

[3] https://www.oklahoman.com/story/news/columns/2016/05/01/oklahoma-turnpike-authority-has-history-of-inflated-projections/60676701007/

[4] https://okcfox.com/news/ask-fox/good-question-does-oklahoma-have-more-turnpikes-than-other-states