Turnpike Trouble? Former Candidate for Governor Continues to Speak Out
Former gubernatorial candidate Gary Richardson continues to speak out against the Oklahoma Turnpike System.
"When people say it's my desire, it's not my desire," said Richardson. "It should be the people's desire to do what's best for the state."
Attorney Gary Richardson spoke before the Tulsa County GOP Men's Club Wednesday, explaining there are still several questions surrounding the system. Some of his concerns include the authority's bondholders, where toll money goes, and primarily in-state contractors. He believes the turnpike roads should be run like the rest of the state's highways.
"They're doing it in all these other states. What's wrong with Oklahoma that we can't do it?" asked Richardson.
Richardson ran as an Independent candidate in the 2002 gubernatorial election. He acknowledged that running without red or blue backing would be challenging but said it was important just to get out the message of this issue.
"The Turnpike Authority, which I've said then and I say today is the biggest scam there's ever been on a state," said Richardson.
Channel 8 spoke with the state's Secretary of Transportation, Gary Ridley, over the phone Wednesday. He said the Turnpike System was built in 1947 to help ease the burden of traffic on highways. He said the turnpike earns about $230 million each year. About 37 percent of that comes from out of state drivers. He said tolls are necessary to enable projects with counties and cities.
Ridley said the Turnpike system is a public-private partnership. He said contractors for construction projects are determined by competitive bids.
Richardson said that the Turnpike Authority at one time had about a half billion dollars saved away. Ridley said the Turnpike system keeps a reserve maintenance account to finance construction projects to improve the turnpike. He said he expects the Turnpike system to finish paying off its debt around 2030.
Neither the GOP group nor ODOT believe there to be an immediate legal pursuit against the Turnpike Authority.