Oklahoma toll roads were created as a means to make traveling in and through Oklahoma faster and easier. They were intended to pay themselves off in 20 years and then be toll-free. However, in the case of the first Oklahoma turnpike (Turner Turnpike), it has been almost 70 years and the road is still not toll-free.
The situation is similar for all ten Oklahoma turnpikes. This is because the state of Oklahoma did not pay for these roads, bonds did. Government bonds are basically loans to the government by citizens wherein there is a set interest rate and no taxes, making them very profitable. Bonds were sold on the open market so that the state would not have to use state funds for new highways. Bond-holders are still profiting, and more bonds will be sold for future construction.
The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority recently voted for 17 percent toll hikes and 900 million in bonds, further adding to the problem. The ten existing turnpikes should have been free years ago, and would be if the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority would stop selling bonds and start paying them off. Given the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority currently has over $1 billion in debt, this can’t happen immediately. In the best case scenario (if the Turnpike Authority stops selling bonds), the debt won’t be paid off until 2028. When the debt is paid, the turnpikes should become free, the Turnpike Authority should be dissolved and all operations absorbed by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.
Until then, toll roads have to remain open. After all debt is paid, Oklahoma should adopt a system like the state of Washington, where there is one toll lane with a higher speed limit, a high minimum speed limit, and less traffic. These toll lanes would be on all 6 lane highways in oklahoma and all future 6 lane highways. There would be no toll booths, as has been proposed for all currently existing Oklahoma turnpikes. Drivers would have to own a Pikepass to go through the toll lane, or a ticket for the amount they owe (plus service fees) would be sent to their home.
In this case, tolls could be higher and fees could be astronomical, because using these toll lanes would be completely optional, and there would still be a straight shot between cities right beside it. These toll lanes could continue after bonds are paid off, and the money could be used for maintenance of all Oklahoma roads. With this plan, the state of Oklahoma would fulfill its promise to make turnpikes free, give drivers a better way to avoid traffic, and make money for infrastructure.