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Shortfall takes toll on Oklahoma roads

Shortfall takes toll on Oklahoma roads


Newsok.com: Cost of driving the state’s turnpikes could increase after panel meets this week

BY MICHAEL MCNUTT
Published: July 12, 2009

Motorists on Oklahoma’s turnpikes could see an average toll increase of about 16 percent in the next month.

Members of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority will consider raising the tolls on the state’s 10 turnpikes at their meeting Wednesday.

"We still think we have the best roads in the state, and in order to maintain them, it looks like a toll increase is what needs to happen,” said Jack Damrill, spokesman for the Turnpike Authority.

The increase, the first since 2001, is necessary to make up for declining revenue, mostly caused by a continuing slide of commercial truck traffic accented by the nation’s recession, Damrill said.

The Turner, Will Rogers and H.E. Bailey turnpikes are part of Interstate 44, a key trucking corridor.

The decline in truck traffic has a major effect on the authority because tractor-trailers and commercial trucks pay a higher rate than passenger vehicles. While traffic is up on the urban turnpikes, the John Kilpatrick in Oklahoma City and the Creek in Tulsa, those tolls can’t compensate for the trucking decline because they are for shorter distances.

Tolls need to increase, "or else the maintenance of our system is going to really take a hit,” Damrill said.

Revenues are down about 3 percent compared with last year, he said.

"The way things are going, we’re looking at a shortfall of $21 million for this year,” he said.

The Turnpike Authority anticipated getting about $212 million in toll revenue, its only source of income, this year. It’s estimated tolls will bring in just under $191 million, he said.

Turnpike Authority members have looked at an average increase in tolls ranging from 10 to 25 percent, Damrill said.

If authority members approve an average toll increase this week, it’s expected to be "in the neighborhood of 16 percent,” the spokesman said.

If the authority goes with an average 16 percent hike, the cost for a passenger vehicle without a Pikepass taking the Turner Turnpike one way between Tulsa and Oklahoma City would increase about 50 cents, from $3.50 to about $4, Damrill said. Pikepass customers pay a slightly lower rate.

The rates for each toll road would be set after any increase approved by the authority.

An average toll increase of 16 percent could bring in about $21 million annually, Damrill said. Because the authority’s budget year is the same as the calendar year, the authority will have to slash its budget even if the toll increase is approved, he said.

The Turnpike Authority’s capital improvements plan, which pays for road resurfacing and road and bridge repairs, was budgeted to receive about $64 million this year. Because of the shortfall, it will be cut to about $35 million, Damrill said.

Without a toll increase, next year’s capital improvements plan is targeted to receive only about $13 million to maintain the system’s bridges and about 580 miles of toll roads, Damrill said.

"You can’t do much nowadays with $13 million because construction costs over the past five years have increased 40 percent,” he said.

Without a toll increase, expansion projects, such as widening the Turner Turnpike, can’t be considered, he said.

It’s expected the authority will approve the same rate of increase for both passenger and commercial traffic. In 2001, tolls increased an average 16 percent for passenger cars and 30 percent for commercial vehicles.

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