Oklahoma Turnpike Authority officials met a crowd of Noble and Norman residents who crowded around information tables while others protested toll road expansion at a public meeting Thursday.
The OTA announced in February it would expand the state’s toll road system, including an extension of the Kickapoo Turnpike from Interstate 40 south to Purcell and one along Indian Hills Road to connect Moore, Norman and Oklahoma City.
OTA Deputy Director Joe Echelle told residents at the Thursday meeting in Noble High School that the Turnpike Authority would build the connection from I-35 to I-44 along Indian Hills first and then an extension of the Kilpatrick Turnpike from State Highway 152 to I-44. The south extension will connect the outer loop to State Highway 9 and last from SH-9 to I-35 to Purcell.
Echelle said the route was initially codified in law in 1987 and that OTA, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments had studied it in the 1980s and again in the early 90s.
The Indian Hills route was chosen to avoid the high density of homes and businesses that had developed north of the road. And the west side of the lake was chosen because it is a “more direct route” and the east side of the lake would be 12 miles longer.
Following his brief introduction, he directed residents to booths where specific questions could be addressed about the proposed turnpike’s impacts to property owners. Each booth was staffed with right-of-way acquisition specialists, engineers and other turnpike staff. One booth was available to discuss environmental impacts.
Noble resident Leslie Isom said she worries about her property value as traffic will increase along Etowah, where an interchange is planned near her home.
“It will probably go up,” Isom said. “Before this happened, I was inundated 10 times a day by text, email, ‘I want to buy your house’ or ‘somebody is interested in your house.’ It stopped. I haven’t had one since this started.”
Pam Post, a Norman resident who protested the turnpike, said the meeting was nothing more than a show.
“This is their meeting, because they want to be able to tell everyone, ‘well we held meetings so everyone can get their questions answered,’” she said.
Like many Norman residents, Post worries the project will impact the city water because it will pollute the Lake Thunderbird watershed and their aquifer-fed wells.
“If you’re talking about elevated roads coming through the wetlands, you have the chance of spillage – fuel, salt, etc. going into that water, and Norman will be hurting.”
The OTA has said during previous meetings that it will control stormwater runoff from the roads and perform environmental impact studies ahead of construction.
Post wondered how long those studies would hold true.
“Water filtrates down through the ground, and then it goes into the aquifer,” she said. “Eventually over the years, 10, 20 or 30 years later, it might poison that aquifer, and Norman is already in a water shortage.”
The lake is considered an impaired water source by the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality and is the primary source of drinking water for Norman. Midwest City and Del City also purchase water from the lake.
Another Norman resident said the OTA will push her entirely out of Norman because she would be forced into a higher mortgage bracket if she stays. She wondered how many others would be put in a similar position.
“Norman’s going to lose a lot of property tax, retail [tax] and utility service [fees],” Kim Burks said.
Additional meetings are planned next week, including one in Norman at the Central Library from 5:30-7:30 p.m. on Tuesday April 19.