What is the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority
The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority (formerly the Oklahoma Transportation Authority)
is an instrumentality of the State of Oklahoma (the State) and a body corporate
and politic created by statute in 1947. The Authority is authorized to construct,
maintain, repair and operate turnpike projects at locations authorized by the Legislature
of the State of Oklahoma and approved by the State Department of Transportation.
The Authority receives revenues from turnpike tolls and a percentage of the turnpike
concession sales. The Authority may issue Turnpike Revenue Bonds for the purpose
of paying the costs of turnpike projects and Turnpike Revenue Refunding Bonds for
the purpose of refunding any bonds of the Authority then outstanding. Turnpike Revenue
Bonds are payable solely from the tolls and other revenues of the Authority and
do not constitute indebtedness of the State.
The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority (OTA) is similar to a public utility, providing
a needed basic service at a fee that yields a return to its investors. The OTA must
generate sufficient revenues to operate and maintain its roads at a high quality
level while covering the interest and principal payments owed to bondholders (investors)
who have purchased its revenue bonds.
The Authority consists of the Governor (ex-officio) and six members serving without
pay for eight-year terms from districts established in the State Statute. The Governor
may remove any member of the Authority, at any time, with or without cause. The
members are appointed to represent defined geographical districts. Authority members
have full control over all turnpike operations; however, the OTA must operate in
strict compliance with trust agreements that define operating procedures to be followed.
The Authority employs a Director to manage the day-to-day operations.
Oklahoma was the first state west of Pennsylvania to complete a toll road financed
exclusively from revenue bonds. The Oklahoma Turnpike Enabling Act, as amended to
date, controls the designation, financing, construction, and operation of the Oklahoma
Turnpikes. An excerpt from Section 1705 of the Enabling Act delegates responsibility
to the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority as follows:
"To construct, maintain, repair, and operate Turnpike projects and highways, with
their access and connecting roads at such locations and on such routes as it shall
determine to be feasible and economically sound."
In addition to providing this responsibility to the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority,
limitations were placed on the selection of toll road locations. It is the sole
discretion of the Oklahoma Legislature to authorize projects considered for construction
by the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority. Originally, fourteen toll road projects were
approved. Today, there are 32 toll road projects authorized by Title 69, Section
The Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) has been inadequately funded to
provide for the maintenance of its existing highway system and also construct new
routes required by expanding road usage and the demand for urban expressways. Consider
that in 1990, ODOT’s share of State Appropriations was 7.2%, but in 2001, ODOT’s
share shrunk to 5.8% of the total State Appropriation moneys. According to the Federal
Highway Administration, of the 31 states that divert Motor Fuel Tax money to non-transportation
uses, Oklahoma ranks second, diverting almost 24% of its Motor Fuel Tax collections.
A Washington, D.C. based non-profit group called The Road Information Program (TRIP)
recently released a report in February 2000 called “Future Mobility Needs in Oklahoma
“. This report stated that Oklahoma’s investment level in its roads and bridges
is significantly below the national average and contributes to a backlog in its
ability to fund adequate road and bridge improvements over the next five years.
Meeting Oklahoma’s needs will require a continued commitment to timely investment
in the state’s transportation facilities. As Oklahoma Department of Transportation’s
share of taxes and appropriations stagnates or declines, projections of future needs
show a deteriorating situation.
With Oklahoma’s state funding behind much of the rest of the U.S., toll financing
is a way to fund construction of new infrastructure where it is economically feasible
thereby making traditional highway monies available for use in those rural areas
where turnpikes could never pay for themselves. In this way, the Authority can take
advantage of national bond markets at the most attractive interest rates possible.
The Turnpike Authority has provided the mechanism to fund the construction and maintenance
of 606 miles of expressways for Oklahoma road users for 50 years predating the advent
of the interstate highway system. These roads have contributed to the economic growth,
expanded productivity, and enhanced road safety for Oklahoma.
Turnpikes provide a way to build and use roads now and pay for them as we use them.
There is no such thing as a free road. Turnpikes operate to supplement the limited
money appropriated for highway construction and maintenance. The Authority receives
no tax money to operate its turnpikes. Turnpike revenues pay all operating and maintenance
costs for the turnpikes and pay off the bonds issued to finance their construction.
For the year 2005, toll revenues are projected to be approximately $191.9 million.
These projected revenues are used to pay the $59 million in operating expenses,
fund the $80 million Capital Plan, and pay the $89 million debt payment due on January
1, 2006. Because the Authority is winding down a comprehensive Construction program
which added almost 50 miles of infrastructure to the turnpike system, the debt payment
on these new miles will increase the annual debt payment to just under $100 million
by the year 2006.
Besides being an alternative to state funded roads, state-maintained roads receive
motor fuel tax money generated by those driving on turnpikes. Under the Authority’s
Enabling Act, and amendments thereto, a portion of the motor fuel excise taxes collected
on fuels consumed on the turnpikes is made available to the OTA from the Oklahoma
Tax Commission. Since July 1, 1992, the motor fuel tax monies have been apportioned
to the OTA on the first day of each calendar month. All motor fuel taxes apportioned
to the OTA are available to fund debt service; to the extent monies are not otherwise
available. If such motor fuel excise taxes apportioned to the OTA are not necessary
in such month, the fuel tax monies shall be paid over immediately to the Oklahoma
Department of Transportation. Since 1992, the Authority has received, and immediately
remitted to ODOT over $365 million.
Roughly 40% of the toll revenues collected on OTA turnpikes is generated from out-of-state
motorists. If tolls were eliminated, the State would have to spend at least $93
million per year from gasoline taxes to maintain existing turnpikes, necessitating
a tax increase.
Oklahoma’s turnpikes also pay in excess of $13 million per year for salaries and
cars for the Highway Patrol Officers assigned to these roads. Without toll revenues,
Oklahoma would have to pay for these troopers out of tax dollars.