DALLAS -- The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority staff and advisers are preparing a financing plan .for a $480 million maintenance program on the state's toll road system and intend to present it to the agency is board July 21, an official said yesterday.
"It's likely we will consider bonds for a portion of it. But we are not ready to say how much that would be or what projects it would be used for," said Holly Lowe, the authority's director of revenue and budget.
Lowe said the staff and the authority's financial adviser, Evensen Dodge Inc., began. to evaluate financing methods following a meeting last week when board members voted 4 to 3 to adopt a five-year maintenance plan.
The program gained approval by one vote despite challenges by Oklahoma Gov. David Waiters, who contended it would sap the authority'sreserves and leave few funds for expansion of the turnpike system.
Last year, the governor proposed a $1.6 billion expansion of toll roads, but that program ran into trouble when legislative opposition grew and Waiters lost political support after pleading guilty to violating campaign finance laws. As a result of those and other factors, the proposed project was scaled hack and many funds are being channeled into the state's oldest and busiest-turnpikes, which were built up to four decades ago.
Under the five-year maintenance proposal, plans call for spending most of the money, $359 million, to refurbish and. widen the Turner Turnpike to six lanes near both Tulsa and Oklahoma City and to repair and improve the Will Rogers Turnpike. The state's eight other turnpikes also would receive some maintenance funding in the five-year project that Would cover most of the 563-mile system.
Lowe said the authority's board could change some of the projects, but in concept, it is committed to the $480 million program. She said the financing plan could be approved as early as July 21, when the regular board meeting is scheduled.
"We have a fiduciary responsibility to our bondholders to maintain our system in an efficient manner. And we need the roads to be in good shape, so people use the roads and wc bring in toll revenues." she said.
Lowe said about $78 million in reserve maintenance funds has already been allocated for the proSram, and some of the $90 million in general fund balances could be used.
Wayne Burggraaff, senior vice president at Evensen Dodge, said his firm will make some recommendations to the authority in July on the financing structure for the maintenance plan.
"We will basically be looking at how much of the maintenance program they can fund with available cash and what they can consider funding through debt issuance," Burggraaff said.
The authority has $681 million of outstanding debt and has debt service coverage of 1.34%, higher than the 1.2% required for the state agency, Lowe said.
However, authority members have expressed concern that the agency does not have enough funds to support the project.
In addition, the governor has said the maintenance plan disproportionately benefits northeastern Oklahoma and consultants from the Tulsa area. "What it really means is, forget about the rest of the state of Oklahoma. We're going to spend every dime that we have now and in the future on potentially unnecessary projects, hundreds of millions of dollars," Waiters was quoted as saying in the Daily Oklahoman last week.
Members of the authority staff and board members disputed that new road projects might not be considered in the future. "There would be some room for new projects," Lowe said. "But that is the board's decision."
New projects that could be evaluated for the future include extensions of the Kilpatrick and Creek turnpikes, sources said.
In the meantime, the maintenance program calls for refurbishing of pavement, drainage, toll facilities, signs, and other items along more than 400 miles of turnpike.