Oklahoma tolls will increase initially by 12 percent on Feb. 1, 2017, with an additional 2.5 percent increase on Jan. 1, 2018.
OKLAHOMA CITY— The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority voted to increase the costs on Oklahoma tollways by 17 percent to help expand and renovate the state's turnpike system, including the construction of new toll roads in Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
Two weeks ago, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled in favor of validating the $480 million bond issue. OTA spokesman Jack Damrill said they would begin selling the bonds in mid-January.
Once the bonds are sold, Damrill says tolls will increase initially by 12 percent on Feb. 1, 2017, with an additional 2.5 percent increase on Jan. 1, 2018. The third increase will be evaluated by the OTA to see if there needs to be another 2.5 percent increase in July of 2019. The new toll increase will impact all Oklahoma tolls.
Damrill said if travelers drive from Tulsa to the Missouri state line on the Will Rogers Turnpike, it will increase the cash rate by approximately 50 cents.
Governor Mary Fallin and The OTA announced last year the launch of “Driving Forward: Investing in Oklahoma’s Future,” an extensive expansion and improvement plan that will lay the groundwork for the future of turnpike transportation in the state.
Damrill said the tolls will increase to help fund upcoming expansion projects and new projects.
“We started an initiative called ‘Driving Forward,’” Damrill said. “We are adding a couple Turnpikes to our system. This (toll increase) will help pay for that. We’re going to sell bonds mid-January and this first initial bond sale will be about $480 million, so this toll increase will help fund that, as well as funding the expansion projects that we’re doing and the new projects that we’re doing.”
An OTA press release states that the “Driving Forward” plan will be a total of six large-scale projects that will modernize, enhance and improve safety, reduce congestion and support population growth on the Turnpike system at an estimated cost of $892 million issued via bonds. Because the project is fully paid for by bonds, it will not affect any part of the state budgeting process and revenue will not be diverted from other state priorities.
“We hope to have all of the projects completed in four years,” Damrill said.
The “Driving Forward” initiative is a way for the OTA to look towards the future, Damrill said.
“As transportation professionals, we have to look 10-20 years down the road, and we are seeing some safety issues, not only in our system but on the state system,” Damrill said. “We’ve been asked to step in and help add a couple routes that we think will relieve traffic in Oklahoma City.
"We’re expanding our system to relieve some safety issues that we have," he added. "It’s all about safety for us, and this is why we’re going to six-laning the Turner Turnpike from Tulsa to Bristow and see what happens after that. We’re also looking at other spots but nothing to announce, yet.”
Damrill mentioned the toll route at the Peoria/Elm Interchange on the Creek Turnpike in Jenks, OK. will go into effect on Jan. 5 instead of Feb. The OTA will be opening up an all-electronic tolling system at this toll only.
“It’s only at this ramp and the rest of the toll increases will occur on Feb. 1,” Damrill said.
All-electronic tolling technology allows motorists to continue through a toll plaza without stopping to pay a toll, whether they have a PIKEPASS or not. A camera in the plaza takes a photo of the vehicle’s license plate as the vehicle passes through and OTA will then distribute an invoice to the customer.
PIKEPASS customers will continue through the plaza as normal. There will no longer be a need to stop and pay cash at toll plazas, making the turnpike system faster, safer and easier.
“If you’re a cash customer, we will send you an invoice,” Damrill said. “It’s going to be expensive if you’re a cash customer. That’s why we do encourage those who do pay with cash to get a PIKEPASS because the cash rate will be more than double the PIKEPASS rate, so it will definitely save them money to be a PIKEPASS customer.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.