Last week’s column began with the one big rule of the Oklahoma Turnpike Mafia: nobody talks about the Turnpike Mafia. But now people are beginning to talk and it has put the Turnpike Mafia in a little bit of a bind.
Rewind back to last February 22 when the $5 billion Access Oklahoma plans ambushed cities and citizens with news of incipient toll road construction–total gangster move. The Turnpike Mafia doesn’t ask for permission. They swagger in, grab land, borrow billions and rev up the bulldozers. The little people are supposed to scurry out of the way and even drop a few coins in the toll booth for the gift of not being crushed by machinery. The Turnpike Authority actually awarded multi-million dollar engineering contracts for the Access Oklahoma projects a week BEFORE the public announcement dropped on February 22. These firms started work right away, even before OTA secured any funding for the projects. This was one of many violations of the state’s open meeting laws, and a big, bad gangster road-building play.
But now things seem to be unraveling. Some of the little people managed to push back and throw a wrench into the complex legal/financial machinery of bond issues, land grabbing and road building—machinery that has historically been able to roll over any opposition. But not now. With two lawsuits pending the Turnpike Mafia hasn’t been able secure the funding they need for the Access Oklahoma projects and they have already spent millions of dollars on engineering and design work.
The roadblock, in this case, is the Council on Bond Oversight, a normally dull committee of political appointees who approve state government agency bond issues. The CBO has never had much of an audience but now everyone is watching and the OTA’s gangster moves don’t play well in the public eye. So on August 9th, in front of a packed house, the CBO put the OTA’s request for a new bond issue on hold for a second time until the two pending legal cases challenging the Access Oklahoma projects are resolved, and the feasibility of the projects can be fully ascertained. Judges don’t like doing the Turnpike Mafia’s dirty work any more than the CBO. There is a good chance the legal challenges will continue for some time, with multiple appeals and costly legal bills for the OTA.
The thing is, there are credible rumors the Turnpike Mafia desperately needs new bond sales right away just to stay afloat in 2023, not only for a “new project”. It appears they went on a borrowing binge during the pandemic and some of those bills are about to come due. What happens if they go into default with nearly $2 billion in debt? How long will their minions at the various engineering firms remain loyal once those fat consulting checks stop coming in? Will the whole rotten lot of them turn on one another in an incandescent orgy of mutual accusation and scandalous revelation?
Keep your popcorn handy folks, there is much more to come. Pretty soon everybody is going to be talking about the Turnpike Mafia. And that may well mean their reign of incompetent gangsterism will finally come to an end.
Stay tuned, readers. Your correspondent is on the job.
Raul Godoy is the pseudonym of a local activist who hates greedy turnpike authorities. He encourages you to visit PikeOffOTA.com. You can follow him on Twitter @MafiaTurnpike.
(Writing by Raul Godoy; Editing by Robbie Robertson)
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