A local attorney who has sued the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority over a proposed turnpike in east Norman claims there is evidence in long-forgotten legislative history that proves the agency has violated state law.
Rob Norman revealed some of the evidence he presented to the Oklahoma Supreme Court earlier this month at a senate committee hearing last week.
As part of a $5 billion, 15-year long range turnpike expansion program, OTA announced in February it intends to construct new toll roads in Norman — one in the Lake Thunderbird Watershed from Interstate 40 to Purcell, and a second along Indian Hills Road.
Norman filed the lawsuit on behalf of the opposition group, Pike Off OTA, in May. His lawsuit accuses the agency of not following the one-bond procedure rule for turnpike projects and that the east Norman turnpike was not included in the 1987 bill authorizing other toll roads.
He claimed to have found evidence to support his accusation that four turnpikes proposed in 1987 should have been built under one bond issuance, not as separate projects under different bond indentures.
The legislature must approve turnpike projects according to the state’s Enabling Act, but Norman argued the agency never obtained legislative approval for the toll road in the watershed and demonstrated he had proof.
In his presentation to the committee, Norman noted two bills related to turnpikes in Norman failed to pass in 1999, House Bill 1459 and Senate Bill 371.
HB 1459 shows that the bill describes the direction for a toll road from Canadian County “south and east to I-35 in the vicinity of Moore and Norman,” but showed the reference to Moore and Norman was struck off and replaced with Purcell.
In SB 371, the same reference to Moore and Norman later added “or Purcell” to the language.
“What they do in the Senate bill is they do a little option route,” he said. “They kind of let the OTA decide whether to put it between Moore, Norman or Purcell.”
Norman said he submitted both failed bills to the supreme court.
OTA has maintained it has authorization to construct the turnpikes in Cleveland County.
Norman also said the agency can’t issue bonds for the south Oklahoma City and Norman turnpike projects because of a law that states the agency must build all listed turnpikes with one-bond issue.
In 1987, the legislature authorized the Oklahoma City Outer Loop, Creek and Cherokee turnpikes but also required the agency to build those and a fourth turnpike in southern Oklahoma under one bond, Norman said last week. The outer loop included the east-west connector along Indian Hills Road and a tri-city connector to connect Interstate 44 to Interstate 35, Norman said.
“What the legislature did on the Oklahoma City Outer Loop was they required it be done in a bundle,” he said. “That all four turnpikes be done in a bundle with one bond issue, and it also mentions one bond indenture. The takeaway from that, 35 years later, is statute does not allow the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority to bond or build any part of the Oklahoma City Outer Loop by itself in phases.”
He referred to evidence he submitted to a court referee at the Oklahoma Supreme Court during a hearing. A news article dated in 1988 in The Daily Oklahoman documented the legislature’s attempt to split up the toll road package.
The article indicated that OTA tried to convince the legislature to “repeal a 1987 law that requires four proposed toll roads be built as a package or not at all.”
“OTA and the governor tried to get the legislature to split all this up, to allow them to build these four turnpikes separately, in chunks and in phases,” Norman told the committee. “But the legislature said no…the legislature absolutely said no, but we’ve forgotten.”
It goes on to state that at least portions of the four proposed projects would have to be included in the bond’s “financing package.”
That legislation failed to pass during the 1988 session, the newspaper reported.
His argument is the first time the matter has come to the court, Norman said.
“I would submit that had it been presented to the court that the Kickapoo [turnpike] should not have been built,” he said.
OTA spokeswoman Jessica Brown provided a statement Friday about the authorization of the south extension and the one bond procedure rule.
Brown quoted OTA’s legal counsel from the Oklahoma Supreme Court referee hearing earlier this month. The attorney argued that bills which fall short of passing does not explain the legislature’s intent.
“This court in Allen v. State (1988 OK 99 Para 11) stated that bills that fall short of passage, much like testimony of individual law-makers, are never probative of legislative intent,” she quoted. “A legislature’s failure to express its will through enacted law constitutes its official silence. No intent may be divined from a law-making body’s silence and enacted law is neither repealed nor diminished in its force by the passage or rejection of an act that would be duplicative of a statute already “on the books”.
Brown also stated that the agency’s decision to build turnpikes and bonds in phases was validated by the Oklahoma Supreme Court in 1989 “when the phased-in approach was implemented.”