By ANDREW W. GRIFFIN
Oklahoma Watchdog, editor
Posted: November 10, 2010
OKLAHOMA CITY – Traveling the state’s turnpikes, from lonely stretches on the Indian Nation Turnpike in Southeast Oklahoma to the Turner Turnpike between Tulsa and Oklahoma City, it’s clear that economic development is not a part the state’s systems of turnpikes, particularly along the rural stretches.
The turnpikes are, assumedly by design, like hermetically-sealed roadways where they want you to get from point a to point b quickly and efficiently.
But if you are wanting something more than gas-station food or a cheeseburger, you’re out of luck.
And that option is becoming less available in recent weeks.
Tim Stewart, the deputy director for the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority spoke to Oklahoma Watchdog recently and said that there are stretches of turnpikes that won’t feature any exits or places to grab a bite.
For instance, if you were used to stopping in Wellston in Lincoln County at the McDonald’s there, sorry, you’ll have to keep driving east to Stroud or west to Oklahoma City.
The vendor at the Wellston exit had an expired contract and it was not renewed. The restaurant was recently torn down.
“They were not interested in renewing,” Stewart said, adding that the “volume” of travelers stopping there was not that high and that it was easily accessible only from the westbound lane.
And don’t hold your breath waiting for a restaurant to replace the old McDonald’s.
“There is no new concession planned for that location. We couldn’t get enough interest moving in that spot,” Stewart said, adding that the less-than-optimal entrance, which would take drivers through the McDonald’s parking lot may be redone.
Stewart was quick to add that while some stretches are very rural and remote, other stretches, like on the Kilpatrick Turnpike, are very heavily populated and there are places to exit and there are plenty of options available to travelers.
Talking to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation’s Cole Hackett, we learned that at Hogback Road, between 150th and Peebly Road in Luther, an exit and toll plaza is being constructed and will be completed before the end of 2010.
“They’re trying to get it done before Christmas,” Hackett said. “They’re working around the clock, 24-7.”
However, a McDonald’s and EZ Go in the Amber-Pocasset area along the H.E. Bailey Turnpike near Chickasha is being replaced.
“It will be a combined McDonald’s and EZ Go and is expected to open after the beginning of the new year,” Stewart said.
“Driving 44 miles distance in today’s travel … it’s not that far,” Stewart said.
What is also interesting on the state’s turnpikes is the lack of signage. You will find few mileage signs and no signs indicating what county you have entered. Oddly, they do place signs on the turnpike letting travelers know they are driving through land that belongs to, say, the Kickapoo Nation.
Yet, go on the Kansas Turnpike and county signs are visible, including Chase County, Kan. made famous by William Least Heat Moon’s book PrairyErth.
Not Oklahoma. If you are driving on a turnpike you are left to guess what county you are driving through.
“Even if we were to make county boundaries there wouldn’t be significance to them,” Stewart said.
One regular reader of this site noted that in north Texas, there is no shortage of places to stop and take a break, get food at a decent restaurant or easily exit. This reader noted that the turnpike system in Oklahoma “stifles economic growth.” This reader also noted a recent drive on Indian Nation Turnpike, going to McAlester, and noted that he felt like he was “the last person on earth” it was so undeveloped and remote.
And when this reporter was writing for The Lawton Constitution, Jerry Slaughter with the OTA was contacted and queried about the lack of county signage and old signs that were so faded that they were hardly readable. Slaughter simply replied: “That’s the way it’s always been.”
And when Stewart was asked about the faded mileage signs, as seen along the H.E. Bailey Turnpike near Elgin, he said they are between 10 and 11 years old and may be faded because they are facing south and take the brunt of the wind and weather.
During a blogging Q&A with then-gubernatorial candidate Mary Fallin’s campaign staff, Oklahoma Watchdog asked if Fallin would address the lack of economic growth along the state’s turnpikes. Spokesman Alex Weintz said that he would bring it up. We have yet to receive a reply from Fallin, who is now governor-elect.
Stay tuned to Oklahoma Watchdog for further information on developments related to Oklahoma’s turnpike system.
Copyright 2010 Oklahoma Watchdog