The cost to construct the five-mile extension of the Gilcrease Expressway and the toll charged to motorists using it will be higher than initially reported, the executive director of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority said Thursday.
Tim Gatz told a group of local officials gathered in Tulsa for an update on the project that the roadway is now estimated to cost approximately $330 million to $340 million, or about 10 percent more than originally thought.
Late last year, Gatz told the same working group that motorists driving private vehicles could expect to pay a toll of $1 to $1.50. The toll is now expected to cost $1.85.
The $1.85 toll would apply only to motorists traveling the entire expressway; for electronic payment purposes, the roadway will have three sections — two costing 60 cents and the other 65 cents — so motorists who travel just a portion of the roadway will pay less.
As the state’s construction and finance plans for the project have become more detailed — and needed design elements added — the projected cost of the project has increased, Gatz said.
“We have identified some things that we are going to invest in that we didn’t know about going in,” he said, adding that “a few design changes” have been made. “We’ve had probably more extensive right-of-way acquisition in the corridor than we originally anticipated.
“So we have had a little bit of cost escalation, which is not necessarily unexpected. We have got a lot more solid information in front of us now than when we started out.”
State officials last year announced the long-anticipated extension of the roadway. The four-lane project will run south from the Sand Springs Expressway (U.S. 412), cross the Arkansas River at 57th West Avenue and connect to Interstate 44 in west Tulsa.
Gatz said that when the extension of the Gilcrease Expressway was announced, plans called for a toll bridge over the Arkansas River that would cost motorists $1 to $1.50 to traverse. The $1.85 toll is for the entire five-mile roadway and gives OTA the funds it needs to pay the debt service on the project.
“This is what it is going to take for us to be able to create the revenue mechanism to service the long-term debt that we’re going to have on the Gilcrease,” Gatz said. “... Now, instead $1.50 to cross the river, that initial toll there for that river crossing is going to be 60 or 65 cents, depending on what direction you’re coming from.”
Gatz noted that the Gilcrease Expressway will not be part of OTA’s statewide network of roads, though it will be built and maintained to OTA standards. The project must be separate from OTA because it is being funded by several entities.
The OTA executive director also provided more details on how the project will be financed. Since it was announced last year, officials have said they would be relying on a private investor to provide long-term funding for the project.
The authority still plans to seek a third-party, private investor, but not for the long term. Instead, the private investor will be asked to build the project and provide $100 million in upfront financing, Gatz said.
Once the expressway is completed, OTA plans to use a separate, $100 million low-interest loan from the U.S. Department of Transportation — available through the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act — and its other funding sources for the long-term financing of the project.
One of the appealing features of the TIFIA loan, Gatz said, is that payments on it would not begin for several years. This would give OTA time to construct the expressway and begin collecting the estimated $4 million a year in tolls it is expected to generate.
Then, he said, “we could engage the TIFIA loan and take out that third-party contractor’s interim financing. So it is almost like a construction loan that you would have if you were building a house.”
Gatz said OTA plans to issue requests for proposals for the private investor in September and have one selected by the end of the year. If all goes right, construction could begin in the late spring or summer of 2019, he said.
“I want to emphasize this is a draft (schedule) and it is very aggressive,” he said.