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Proposed toll road infuriates Harrah, eastern Oklahoma County residents

Tim Farley / Red Dirt Report
Janet and Paul Crouch hope to stop turnpike construction.
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Turnpike turns dream home into nightmare for Air Force vet, wife

HARRAH, Okla. – After a 24-year career in the U.S. Air Force, Paul Crouch and his wife Janet bought their dream home in Harrah, a place where they intended to retire while living in a peaceful rural area.

However, they recently discovered their dream is about to become a nightmare with the proposed eastern Oklahoma County turnpike that will come within a half-mile of their residence.

“I served my country for 24 years to protect this government and the people who live in this country. After I retired, we scrapped together the money to build our first house and then they want to build a turnpike through my home,” he said outside Harrah Church Thursday night after attending an informational meeting where the preliminary alignment was presented.

State elected officials, including Gov. Mary Fallin, Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb and lawmakers have been unresponsive to their concerns, Crouch and his wife said.

“Apparently, OTA (Oklahoma Turnpike Authority) is calling the shots,” he said.

The Crouches were not told of the planned turnpike when they purchased the home two years ago, which now has the couple considering legal action against the realtor who sold them the house.

“It is exactly 330 yards from our house to the turnpike, but we won’t receive any compensation for it,” Janet Crouch said. “They said it’s not close enough. We asked about a sound barrier wall, and we were told no to that.”

The Crouches also are distressed that they may never be able to sell their home.

“Nobody will want to buy this. They don’t want to live under a turnpike. This just tears at our hearts. We were living the Oklahoma and American dream and then this happens,” Paul Crouch said. “These elected officials are not here for us, but believe me we’ll remember when election time comes around. I have a huge mouth and I’ll do a lot of talking.”

The new, $300 million turnpike will start at about Interstate-40 and S. Luther Road, extending north to I-44 (Turner Turnpike). The new toll road will connect with I-44 between Triple X Road and Peebly Road or between N. Dobbs Road and N. Harrah Road.

Oklahoma Turnpike Authority officials have said the project will force the removal of an estimated 100 homes, mostly in the Harrah and unincorporated areas of eastern Oklahoma County.

“People need to understand we’ve been asked to build this and we need them to work with us,” OTA spokesman Jack Damrill said. “They (residents) believe it will distract from their way of life in a rural setting.”

Damrill tried to alleviate fears that some east-west roads would close because of the turnpike.

“That’s not true,” he said. “All east-west roads will remain open.”

Some residents expressed fears the OTA will use eminent domain to claim the property needed to build the toll road.

“We don’t want to do that,” Damrill said. “We will make some very generous offers. We had about a 90 percent success rate (buying private property) when we built the Creek Nation Turnpike in Tulsa.”

Harrah will be the community most affected by the project, although city officials in Harrah, Choctaw, Jones and Luther have praised the proposed toll road as a way to alleviate traffic congestion and open up new routes from Oklahoma City to Tulsa.

Former missionary Neal Scott, who is his 80’s, and his wife Lucy can’t believe they’re being forced to deal with this controversy. The couple married four years ago.

“We put our life savings into our home,” he said. “We moved out here (in Summer Ridge addition) to live in peace and quiet. That’s not going to happen. If this were put to a vote of the people, it wouldn’t pass.”

Scott said he and his wife live “very close” to the alignment, between Luther and Peebly roads.

“I don’t want traffic. I don’t want pollution,” he said.

About 100 retirees live in the Summit Ridge addition and another 50 reside in a nearby nursing home.

“We don’t have the money or energy to move,” Scott said.

Outside the Harrah Churh, Phillip Arnold held a sign protesting the turnpike as people entered the meeting, which allowed residents to speak one-on-one with project engineers.

“I’m fighting for my neighbors,” he said. “ODOT (Oklahoma Department of Transportation) and OTA are the same organization. You can’t see much daylight between them.”

Arnold believes Oklahomans should become more aware of the OTA’s plans since 35 other turnpikes have been pre-approved.

“People have been disenfranchised by this process,” he said.

Another public meeting will be held in mid to late April so residents can be informed of the final alignment plan, Damrill said. The time and location of the meeting has not been disclosed.

One resident, who asked not to be identified, said Choctaw officials tore down anti-turnpike signs at the same locations where political signage is prevalent.

“We offered to pay the $300 politicians pay but they wouldn’t let us,” the resident said. “That’s squashing our voice.”

Choctaw Mayor Randy Ross has been a strong proponent of the turnpike plan.

Two groups, Stop the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority and Citizens Opposed to the Eastern Oklahoma County Turnpike, will hold a rally 10 a.m. to noon, Wednesday, March 16, at the Capitol's south plaza, to denounce the project. Organizers said they are expecting a large turnout.

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Tim Farley

Tim Farley is an award-winning journalist with more than 30 years of experience, including...

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