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TW EDITORIAL: Turpikes taking a toll

TW EDITORIAL: Turpikes taking a toll

by: Tulsa World's Editorial Writers
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
7/15/2009 4:01:51 AM

Nobody likes turnpike toll hikes. For that matter, nobody seems to much like turnpikes.

Putting aside that debate for a moment — why we have or need so many turnpikes — the fact remains we do have a lot of turnpikes and they collectively amount to a huge asset that has to be maintained. That's why toll increases are necessary now and then.

The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority is scheduled to consider toll increases that would average about 16 percent at its Wednesday meeting.

If approved, the toll for a car to travel one way on the Turner Turnpike would rise from $3.50 to $4.

Transportation officials say the national economic downturn, which has led to a slowdown in commercial traffic, has resulted in revenue shortfalls that will reach as much as $21 million this year.

A shortfall of that magnitude would mean a huge cutback in capital improvements to the system, which would cost about $10 billion to rebuild, according to OTA data.

Requirements in bond agreements regarding cash balances and debt ratios also would be affected if the shortfall problem is not addressed. Ultimately, the system's bond rating could be affected, which would drive up debt costs.

The authority's records show it has increased tolls seven times in its 56-year history, most recently in 2001. Toll hikes have averaged about 18 percent.

The OTA says its toll rates are more than 30 percent below toll rates for similar turnpike systems in the country.

Most Oklahomans probably don't have many kind words for the turnpike system, an understandable sentiment especially around Tulsa, which is surrounded by turnpikes. Many people believe erroneously that turnpikes were supposed to be paid off, when in fact a statewide vote and legislative changes now allow for cross-pledging revenue to expand the system.

If decisions had been made decades ago to adequately fund transportation needs, then turnpikes probably would not have proliferated. But that's not what happened, and now we have $10 billion worth of turnpikes to maintain and bond ratings to protect. So keep some extra change in the car if you're heading out of town.

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