The Associated Press
OKLAHOMA CITY — State Transportation Secretary Gary Ridley said Thursday that motorists who drove along Oklahoma turnpikes during the Christmas Eve blizzard without paying the toll will not have to pay a $25 fine.
And he said the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority was wrong for issuing more than 1,200 toll violation notices.
“When government makes a mistake, government needs to admit it, correct it and make sure it never happens again,” Ridley said. “We certainly made a mistake in how we handled this.”
The OTA sent automatic toll violation notices to 1,286 motorists who drove on an Oklahoma turnpike between Christmas Eve — when the blizzard began — and the day after Christmas. The notices demanded that the motorists pay a $25 fine for not paying the toll.
But Ridley said so much snow fell during the storm that driving lanes were not visible and some cash toll collection equipment would not operate.
Some motorists have complained that they could not get to cash toll gates because cars or snowdrifts were blocking the entrances during the blizzard. Many cash turnpike users had no choice but to take a prepaid Pikepass lane, triggering the automated violation notice.
“We had an unprecedented snowstorm and blizzard,” Ridley said. “It was an extreme event of huge proportions.”
The storm lasted for more than six hours and dropped 14 inches of wind-blown snow with drifts up to three feet high in Oklahoma City and elsewhere. Dozens of motorists were stranded and had to be rescued by authorities when their cars got stuck in snow on one of Oklahoma’s turnpikes or other highways.
Four turnpikes — the H.E. Bailey, Turner, Kilpatrick and Creek — were closed during the storm and part of the Will Rogers Turnpike northeast of Tulsa was also closed, turnpike officials said.
“It really was unfit for anyone,” said Tim Stewart, deputy director of OTA.
Ridley said the toll violation notices have been voided and that motorists who received one will now get a letter telling them they are only responsible for the normal toll for the section of turnpike they drove along. Most violations occurred in the Oklahoma City area.
Refunds will be issued to the 75 or 80 motorists who have already paid the fine, Ridley said. They will also only be responsible for the normal toll.
Stewart said motorists who paid a toll and became stranded on an Oklahoma turnpike because of snow and ice, or who believe they were charged too much for using a turnpike during the Christmas Eve blizzard, should contact the OTA to request a refund.
Gov. Brad Henry declared a state of emergency during the storm. Stewart said turnpike authorities have no plans to suspend tolls during a gubernatorial declaration, but that steps are being taken to prevent automatic notices from being sent again following severe weather.
“We need some internal controls to say: ’Stop it,”’ Stewart said.
“We are correcting the problem,” Ridley said.
The Associated Press
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