Path Home Shows 2014 Show Archive July 2014 Show 1428 Tim Stewart - Miles of Toll Roads

Tim Stewart - Miles of Toll Roads

One solution to Oklahoma’s underfunded public transportation infrastructure is toll roads – the pay-as-you-go system.
Tim Stewart - Miles of Toll Roads

Tim Stewart - Miles of Toll Roads

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Oklahoma Turnpike Authority

Oklahoma Policy Institute

Show Details

Show 1428: Tim Stewart - Miles of Toll Roads
Air Date: July 13, 2014



Rob McClendon: Well, one solution to our underfunded public transportation infrastructure is toll roads – sort of a pay-as-you-go system. Earlier, I sat down with the deputy director of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, Tim Stewart.

Rob: Well, Tim, certainly a lot of talk about transportation dollars down at the Capitol this last session. But I think there is some confusion over the Transportation Department and the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority.

Tim Stewart: You know, that’s a good point. Of course, transportation funding is vitally important to everyone. And there is concern about that diminishing over time with the ability of motor fuel tax to keep up with demand. And that’s, that’s quite frankly where we stepped in, and we stepped in back in 1953 when we built our first roadway. We’re self-funded. We don’t receive any state or federal tax support. The only people that pay the turnpike and turnpike tolls are those customers that use our system. So gas tax is not used to fund the Turnpike Authority. We are self-funded. We partner with the department on transportation needs, but we use the funds iterated on the system to reinvest in the system.

Rob: So it’s user-based. How much of that money comes from out of state?

Stewart: Last year, about 40 percent of our total revenue, which was about $96 million, came from out of state users. So that’s $96 million that might have otherwise not been available to transportation needs in Oklahoma. We’re able to use that $96 million to pour back into our system to help, again, provide safe and convenient passage.

Rob: In comparison to other systems, turnpike systems around the nation, how does Oklahoma, do we have more toll roads, less toll roads, do we pay more, pay less?

Stewart: Total mileage, we have a little over 600 miles of roadway. So if you looked at our system nationally, we, we tip back and forth between us and New York state. We have almost the most mileage of roadways. That being said, our rate to use it per mile – if you took all of the similar tolling facilities throughout the U.S., of which there are 34 states that have that, if you looked at all of those and averaged them and then took our rate per mile versus the average rate per mile for a passenger vehicle we’re 57 percent below the national average. And for a commercial, a large truck carrier we’re 62 percent below the national average. So we keep our rate per mile very low.

Rob: So you said 600 miles. Was there any talk about expansion?

Stewart: We, of course, we have multiple authorized projects on our list. We don’t build a project unless the legislature authorizes it. But we’ve not built all of those, and we’re not envisioning building anything new in the immediate future. We have an aging system now – oldest turnpike system is 61 years old. And we need to reinvest into that network. We’re trying, again, to keep it a sound safe system. So reinvesting in ourselves is important. Now if a new need arised in Oklahoma for commercial or say shipment, we’d definitely be part of that equation and we’d discuss it with them, but we have nothing on the immediate plans.

Rob: Are there any rules or regulations, I know it’s 75 on the turnpikes, that you don’t have on the other highways in the state?

Stewart: We have separate legislative authorization for speeds. Now, any of the speeds that are set on our system, we try to look at it from an engineering analysis standpoint to ensure it’s safe. We make a recommendation to the commissioner of public safety, and by resolution the board adopts a proposal that the commissioner looks at from enforcement and safety standpoint. And if he agrees, then we post the speeds. And as you pointed out, on the turnpikes we’ve been able to comfortably post a 75 mile an hour speed but probably can’t go any higher than that. And on state highways, similarly positioned, they’re 70 miles an hour.

Rob: And -- but they’re still patrolled by Highway Patrol.

Stewart: Oh, they are, by all means. We, we, as part of our total funding, operating funding package – which last year was about $72 million – 12 million of that went to reimburse the Highway Patrol to patrol our system. So a hundred percent of the cost for law enforcement on the turnpike is paid through turnpike tolls or turnpike fees – we don’t receive appropriated dollars for those troopers. We’re down a little bit in the number of troopers we need out there, but last year we had about a hundred troopers out there patrolling the network, and we paid a hundred percent of that cost.

Rob: Final question for you. You have a Pikepass and say you’re driving another car. I’m not saying I’ve done this, but I have, and you forget that you do not have a Pikepass up in your car, and you zip right through as normal. What happens then?

Stewart: Well, we, uh, if you zip through, those the electronic toll collection lanes will image the vehicle your driving, look up the license plate tag information of that vehicle and contact the owner of the vehicle. If it happened to be you, you would contact us and say, “You know, I’ve done something in error. What can I do to correct that?” If you’re a customer, we’re just gonna charge that toll to your account and wipe it clean. For an initial out-of-state guy that makes an error in judgment, for the first time we’re gonna send him a courtesy notice and say, “You know what, you may have made a mistake, and here’s what we believe the mistake may have been so in the future when you ride our system here’s how you correctly pay the tolls.” But if he does it again, we’re gonna image that vehicle, send him a notice, and if he doesn’t have an account it’s gonna be a $25 fine.

Rob: Certainly an interesting system and one a lot of us Oklahomans use.

Stewart: Thank you.

Rob: Thank you.