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Oklahoma Turnpike Authority litigates in state Supreme Court

Attorneys Rob Norman and Elaine Dowling speak to reporters outside the Oklahoma Judicial Center in Oklahoma City, after opposing the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority’s request for approval by the Supreme Court of the ‘Oklahoma bond issue to fund controversial toll highway expansion through Norman. (Photo by Janice Francis-Smith)

OKLAHOMA CITY — Today’s Oklahoma Turnpike Authority has a very different idea of ​​the extent of its power than the OTA of 20 or 30 years ago, according to arguments presented to the Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday. ‘Oklahoma.

The OTA has asked the court to approve a bond issue that would allow the agency to move forward with a controversial $5 billion toll highway expansion, even as the proposal is currently pending in district court. A court arbitrator heard arguments for the claim on Tuesday.

Representing the OTA, Jered Davidson said the agency has always had the latitude to identify when and where new toll roads are needed. Securing court approval would provide certainty for all parties as the agency moves to create new routes to relieve congestion along the Interstate 35 corridor.

Opponents of the plan have pointed to current bylaws as well as past attempts at legislation which they say show the agency requires legislative approval for new projects of this scale.

“OTA has already applied for permission to build the southern extension,” attorney Elaine Dowling said Tuesday afternoon. “They turned it down. This year they didn’t bother to ask.

A scheme that closely mirrors the current proposal, to extend the toll road system south to Purcell, was requested and rejected in the 1999 legislative session, Dowling said.

Years ago, the Oklahoma legislature stipulated that four toll highway expansion projects would be funded by a bond issue, if they were to be completed, attorney Rob Norman told the court . The OTA opted against the plan, asking instead for the possibility of issuing bonds at a later date to continue the project. This request was refused and the project was abandoned for decades.

Davidson argued that the bond issue to fund the currently proposed project is a continuation of the original bond issue from decades ago, and is therefore already approved under the decades old authorization.

Former state Rep. Mike Reynolds, who served in the Legislature from 2002 to 2014, said he did everything he could to kill a similar freeway expansion proposal in TOLL.

“I was told he was dead,” Reynolds told the Oklahoma Supreme Court adjudicator overseeing Tuesday’s hearing. “Today I find out that it’s not as dead as I thought. I find it rather interesting that somehow the authority determined that it had legislative power. … Trying to graft these highways onto previous legislation, I think, is absolutely disgusting.

The Town of Norman joined the list of parties opposed to the OTA’s request, along with a group of concerned property owners and neighbors who formed the Pike Off OTA group.

The stakes couldn’t be higher, opponents of the OTA’s Access Oklahoma plan told the court Tuesday. An OTA victory would give the government agency the confidence to continue building toll roads at all times, taking anyone’s private land for this purpose and handing over ownership of the roads of the OTA. state to foreign investors, opponents of the plan said.

Normandy resident Amy Cerrato said neighbors had been “terrified” by surveyors as they pushed ahead with plans to acquire their land to make way for the toll road.

The Oklahoma Board on Bond Oversight has given only conditional approval for the bond issue, subject to the legal challenges against the toll highway expansion being resolved in favor of the Oklahoma Board of Bond Oversight. ‘OTA. The OTA responded by reallocating other sources of funding to keep the project moving forward.

“Less than a year from public announcement to eminent domain,” Cerrato said. “Would this expedited deadline be to avoid the next legislative session which could potentially pass bills to limit the authority of the OTA and put in place protections for citizens?”