On Wednesday, October 17, the Senate Transportation Committee discussed an interim study at the request of Senator Cliff A. Aldridge of Midwest City. The hearing served to explore solutions to the outdated transportation infrastructure of eastern Oklahoma County. With the region projected to see 20% population growth over the next 15 years, a series of presenters encouraged proactive means of ensuring the infrastructure is modernized so as to play an essential role in economic development in the coming years.
The Eastern Oklahoma County Partnership, a public-private partnership launched in 2010 with the purpose of spearheading economic growth in the region, provided a presentation that defined Eastern Oklahoma County (EOC) as “a dynamic 285 square mile region made up of over 1400 small businesses in Choctaw, East Oklahoma City, Harrah, Jones, Nicoma Park and Luther.” The EOC Partnership cited a 2011 statement by the Rural Policy Research Institute that found
… well-functioning transportation can be expected to increase the productivity of private capital, reduce the costs of production, increase the size of labor markets, increase property values, and increase the overall global competitiveness of regions.
The EOC Partnership recommended three actions compiled in conjunction with businesses and community leaders:
- Completion of the Turner Turnpike Gate on I-44 near Luther to provide eastbound access toward Tulsa
- Development of Choctaw Road and Harrah Road to four lanes
- High speed access, similar to the Memorial Road/Kilpatrick Turnpike development, to connect the Turner Turnpike and I-40
Construction of a turnpike through the region to improve access and encourage development has a projected cost of $500 million, which Oklahoma Secretary of Transportation Gary Ridley labeled as not currently financially feasible. Instead, he noted the upcoming reconstruction of the I-40/Choctaw Road interchange that will be followed by improvement of I-40 east to the Oklahoma/Pottawatomie county line.
Questions from the Committee concerning the cost to complete the Luther Gate revealed that it could be accomplished for around $2 million, according to Tim Stewart, Deputy Director of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority. He said that all right-of-way acquisition and utility work has been completed and the final plans are 95 percent complete.
Information on Interim Study 2012S-017, “Study to evaluate transportation concerns and needs as well as possible improvements in Eastern Oklahoma County”, can be accessed via the Oklahoma State Legislature’s website.