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Oklahoma Turnpike Authority wins Supreme Court overturn, must respond to land purpose denial

Demonstrators hold protest signs against the ACCESS Oklahoma turnpike project at the Jan. 3, 2023 OTA board meeting.
Beth Wallis
StateImpact Oklahoma
Demonstrators hold protest signs against the ACCESS Oklahoma turnpike project at the Jan. 3, 2023 OTA board meeting.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court has ruled on two matters regarding the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority’s ACCESS Oklahoma project.

In December 2022, a district judge ruled the OTA had violated the Open Meetings Act through their announcement of ACCESS Oklahoma, a 15-year and $5 billion turnpike expansion project.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court overturned that ruling in a 5-3 vote, saying that because the ACCESS announcement was for informational purposes only and no vote was taken, the authority did not violate the law.

Stan Ward, the lead attorney on the case against the OTA, wrote in a statement the ruling marks a dark day for transparency in the state.

“While many hundreds of landowners will be adversely impacted by this decision, the biggest losers are the citizens of Oklahoma who simply want what the Act expressly states it is about — namely, to be informed as to the business that our local and state governments are up to,” Ward wrote.

The OTA also received word the Supreme Court was demanding them to respond to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s denial of their request to cross two sections of land the bureau has authority over.

The bureau claimed that OTA’s cross request for the South Extension Turnpike violated the congressionally approved uses for the land near Lake Thunderbird in Norman.

The Supreme Court gave the OTA until June 15 to submit into court record their explanation of how the South Extension can still be constructed given the denial.

According to the ACCESS Oklahoma website, the denial from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation could require OTA to modify the alignment of the turnpike, or the agency might have to pay a fee.

Work on all ACCESS turnpike routes and projects was paused in April, as the authority waits for a separate Supreme Court decision on their proposed bond funding.

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