By Anne Hershewe
Members of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority will meet today to discuss raising tolls on the state’s 10 turnpikes, including the Will Rogers Turnpike in Northeast Oklahoma.
“Anything can happen right now,” said Jack Damrill, spokesman for the OTA.
He said revenue last year was down, and this year may be worse. He attributes the decline to a drop in commercial and passenger traffic brought about by high gas prices last year and the economic slowdown this year.
This year, he said, Oklahoma turnpikes stand to lose about $21 million.
Damrill also said this year the rates could go up as much as 16 percent.
This means a passenger vehicle going from Joplin to the airport in Tulsa on the Will Rogers Turnpike would pay a toll of about $4.06, which is 56 cents more than the current rate of $3.50.
“Over the last several toll increases, not every single route had a toll increase,” Damrill said.
That won’t be case today.
“Every one will see some type of increase, on every route,” he said.
He noted the frequent construction along the Will Rogers Turnpike and said it is because the turnpike fell behind in revenue several years ago and the agency is just now able to address the problems from those past years. If the tolls aren’t raised, Damrill fears the situation on all 10 turnpikes in a few years will get worse.
He also acknowledged the increases won’t be popular.
“People will be concerned. People will be upset. People get upset when prices go up. A toll increase is not something we want to do,” he added “We’ve already slashed our budgets as much as we can. Without (the increase), people would start seeing a hit in the service we provide them.”
Linda Percy, director of human resources at Buffalo Run Casino in Miami, said the casino employs several non-Oklahomans who rely on the turnpike to get to work.
As of now, the toll already costs employees who use the turnpike $1 per day — 50 cents to enter Miami and another 50 cents to leave. That price, Percy said, can really add up for commuters, and an increase wouldn’t help.
“I think it would hurt our employees. On top of gas prices, if the gas prices go up again, it could really hurt them,” she said.
The OTA budgeted on the basis of a projected $212 million in toll revenue, but it’s now estimated that tolls will bring in just less than $191 million, Damrill said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
For more information on Oklahoma turnpikes and the current tolls, visit www.pikepass.com.
By Anne Hershewe
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