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Turnpike studies slated Tuesday: Senate Transportation Committee to hear several presentations

Sep. 26—Editor's note: this story has been updated to correct a reference to the Oklahoma Senate's website url.

The Oklahoma Transportation Senate Committee will hear several presentations on studies regarding the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority on Tuesday at the state Capitol.

According to the meeting agenda, the committee chairman Rob Standridge and fellow Senator Micheal Bergstrom will open with an introduction followed by speakers Joe Echelle, OTA deputy director, and Tim Gatz, Transportation Secretary.

The subject is titled "The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority: What it is, what it is not," and begins at 9 a.m. Tuesday in Room 535 at the Capitol.

The meeting is open to the public with limited seating but will also be filmed through the senate's live stream services available.

To view the meeting online at oksenate.gov, click on live proceedings and then select view senate sessions.

After 1 p.m., several Norman residents and plaintiffs in a lawsuit will address the committee.

After OTA announced it planned to construct two new turnpikes in Norman, more than 200 residents hired attorney Stan Ward in May.

Ward filed a lawsuit that has alleged the agency insufficiently informed the public on its January and February meeting agendas.

The accusation that it willfully violated the state's Open Meeting Act is ongoing, with a trial set for December.

Attorney Robert Norman filed a second lawsuit which has accused the agency of violating proper bond procedure and stated that the legislature has never authorized the turnpike planned in east Norman's Lake Thunderbird Watershed.

The turnpike would connect the Kickapoo Turnpike from Interstate 40 south to Purcell.

Counsel from both lawsuits will address the committee, said Ward 5 city councilor Rarchar Tortorello.

Tortorello will also speak along with Amy Cerato, a geotechnical engineer and University of Oklahoma professor of civil engineering and environmental sciences.

Tortorello is a plaintiff in the open meeting act lawsuit and represents the ward that is most affected by the proposed turnpike projects.

"The purpose of an interim study is to share information regarding laws the legislature will be voting on," Tortorello said. "So, we want to show the history of the turnpike, starting with the [turnpike] Enabling Act. We want to talk about the impact to the environment, the engineering aspects. Is it proper to put a road here when you can place it somewhere else?"

Tortorello also said presenters will discuss the financing of bonds, environmental impacts including those that affect the city's stormwater master plan and water supply, the loss of ad valorem tax revenue and "the destruction of our lifestyle."

Each presenter has 20 minutes. OTA will present first, Tortorello said.

He also stated that information presenters intend to bring forward must be turned into the committee.

"We just want to present the facts," he said. "OTA will have their side, we will have our side and that should help make a decision going forward."

Another study, which was to be conducted Monday and Tuesday on behalf of Rep. Danny Sterling, R-Tecumseh, was rescheduled for Oct. 27-28 due the start of a special session Wednesday.

Mindy Wood covers City Hall news and notable court cases for The Transcript. Reach her at mwood@normantranscript.com or 405-416-4420.