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Norman legislators react to the approval of ACCESS Oklahoma

Four of Normans legislators, from left to right: Sen. Mary Boren (D-Norman), Rep. Annie Menz (D-Norman), Rep. Jared Deck (D-Norman) and Rep. Jacob Rosecreants (D-Norman).
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Four of Normans legislators, from left to right: Sen. Mary Boren (D-Norman), Rep. Annie Menz (D-Norman), Rep. Jared Deck (D-Norman) and Rep. Jacob Rosecreants (D-Norman).

After a year of opposition from community members and leaders, Norman legislators reacted to the approval of infrastructure project ACCESS Oklahoma, advocating for reform of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority.

Last Tuesday, the state Supreme Court approved the OTA’s ACCESS Oklahoma project, a 15-year, $5 billion plan that includes constructing three new turnpikes in the metro area. The 6-3 ruling comes after three legal challenges.

In a press release Friday, Sen. Mary Boren (D-Norman) wrote the people she represents will not be defeated by the ruling. Boren encouraged residents to remain hopeful in an investigation by State Auditor Cyndi Byrd into OTA’s spending.

Rep. Annie Menz (D-Norman) wrote that her legislative colleagues and constituents appreciate Byrd’s investigation and Attorney General Gentner Drummond for requesting the audit. Menz continues to advocate for transparency and accountability.

“I am encouraged to know that several bills designed to reform the OTA are still making their way through the legislature with authors on both sides of the aisle,” Menz wrote. “Our resolve for justice for our constituents remains strong.”

ACCESS Oklahoma was officially announced in Feb. 2022, with residents in Norman and their political representatives immediately speaking against the project due to environmental concerns, oversight worries and the loss of homes.

The OTA lost one lawsuit that said the authority violated the Open Meetings Act in December. That ruling was later overturned by the state Supreme Court. The legal challenge against the bond package argued the OTA had violated its statutory limits in drawing the ACCESS Oklahoma turnpike routes.

Menz wrote she was disappointed by the court’s “staggering reluctance” to see the statutory limits. Rep. Jared Deck (D-Norman) wrote the ruling shows that past legislatures had given the OTA vastly broad powers, and is asking for bipartisan reform.

“We need clear, unmistakable and effective oversight over the OTA,” Deck wrote. “If we neglect our duty, then the rights of citizens across the state will remain in the crosshairs of a few unelected bureaucrats who seem to have no known limits to their power.”

Rep. Jacob Rosecrants (D-Norman) said the opposition from residents showed the OTA failed to consider how their turnpike plans affect Oklahomans, calling it a shame. “Oklahomans deserve to live in a state where the government works for them, not against them,” Rosecrants wrote.

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Peggy Dodd was an intern at KOSU during the summer of 2023.
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