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Turnpike protesters say they're coming after OTA, elected officials

Nick Oxford / Red Dirt Report
Eastern Oklahoma County toll road construction protesters outside the State Capitol Wednesday morning.
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Critics claim toll road project driven by money, future sales tax

OKLAHOMA CITY – More than 300 angry property owners demanded the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority stop its plans for an Eastern Oklahoma County toll road during a protest rally Wednesday at the State Capitol.

Homeowners in Harrah and unincorporated areas surrounding the city are incensed that the OTA intends to build a turnpike that will displace about 150 property owners from the rural area they call home.

The Eastern Oklahoma County residents held signs while listening to six speakers at the rally. Some of the signs read, “Eminent Domain is stealing,” “No Turnpike, Save Our Home,” and “Fire Fallin.”

Stephen Maguire, a retired U.S. Army Ranger who was blinded while serving in Vietnam, moved to Jones with his wife after he retired from his job at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C. His comments were blunt and accused the OTA of stealing people’s property.

“It’s devastation,” he said. “The OTA needs to be abolished. The turnpike authority is not accountable and if it’s unaccountable, it’s not democratic.”

Turnpike authority spokesman Jack Damrill said the agency will make generous offers to property owners whose land will be consumed by the new toll road.

Maguire complained the OTA provides irrational reasons for building the toll road in that area of the county instead of taking other routes.

“I know they’re lying because the justifications are nonsensical. The real answer is worse. It’s corrupt. There are people who want this because they have the inside track on rezoning property and making a lot of fast money,” he said.

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. The final route will be announced in mid to late-April, an OTA official said.

Former state legislator Mike Reynolds said Oklahoma City officials are pushing for the route to stay in their city in order to benefit from economic development and future sales tax growth that could occur along the route.

“There are other routes they could take. I’m told they could take it to Pottawatomie County. So why do you think it couldn’t go anywhere else? It’s driven by Oklahoma City and the Oklahoma City chamber. It’s about sales tax and money,” he said.

Meanwhile, former U.S. Attorney and gubernatorial candidate Gary Richardson has been a vocal critic of the OTA since he ran for governor in 2002. His criticism of the OTA was a major campaign issue at the time.

“I said 14 years ago the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority is a scam and it will continue to be a scam for the people of Oklahoma in 2016. The OTA is like cancer in a person’s body. It quietly moves along and all of a sudden it’s taken over,” he said, adding the OTA should be placed under the auspices of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.

Maguire held the crowd’s attention with comments that the OTA would cause property owners to take a major hit financially as the agency “degrades and destroys” rural farm property. Some property owners won’t be compensated since their land is not directly affected by the road construction, but the indirect exposure to the proposed turnpike will have serious consequences, he said.

“The tractor trailer exhaust will be stuck up your nose and your property values will go down. Are we going to be compensated for loss of equity in our homes? No, they don’t give a crap. The cost to us is simply dismissed,” Maguire said.

Turning his attention to state and local governments, Maguire warned that all elected officials are “with us or against us. If they are not with us, they need to be doing some other kind of work. This isn’t about Republicans, Democrats or Independents. We’re all getting screwed. We are the victims and we don’t like it. We don’t want our (rural) property paved over.”

Maguire urged the crowd to maintain its fight against the turnpike, calling for a “pitchfork energy.”

“We need to get this going because they have bulldozers ready to go,” he said.

Homeowner and mother of two daughters, Saundra Traywick said one of the routes will cut through the middle of her family’s property, leaving 20 to 25 acres landlocked and inaccessible.

“They want to cut a swath right down the middle of our property,” she said. “The rest of it, where the house sits, would have a turnpike behind it. Even though we couldn’t see it because of the tree line, we would still hear it.”

Making matters worse, one of Traywick’s daughters suffers from an auto-immune disease that could worsen from traffic pollution along the turnpike.

“It would be detrimental to her health,” Traywick said. “If we have to move, there’s also that stress and strain and then we have to move all of our livestock.”

Traywick also fears more vehicles will create more crime in the area, a problem she thought her family left behind when they moved to rural Harrah. The Traywicks built their home over two years and hadn’t lived there a year when news of the proposed turnpike was disclosed.

“What people don’t realize is the next phases of this will be to Guthrie and Norman,” she said. “It’s in their [OTA] best interest to stay in debt so they can continue collecting tolls and building turnpikes.”

Photos by Red Dirt Report's Nick Oxford.

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