No authority: City's alleges OTA cannot build east Norman turnpike

Sep. 10—The City of Norman has filed a brief in support of opposition to the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority's request before the Oklahoma Supreme Court to validate bonds for a turnpike in east Norman.

OTA announced its $5 billion, 15-year plan to expand the state's toll road system including two new turnpikes in Norman — the South Extension in the Lake Thunderbird Watershed from the Kickapoo Turnpike to Purcell, and the East-West Connector along Indian Hills Road in north Norman.

The city hired the Spencer Fane law firm whose attorneys share one argument local attorney Rob Norman asserts in a lawsuit he filed on behalf of Norman residents in May.

That lawsuit contends the east Norman turnpike was never specified in a 1987 bill that authorizes specific turnpike projects. State law requires OTA to propose projects that are subject to the Oklahoma Legislature's approval. An attempt to authorize the project in 1999 failed to pass.

It's not what the bill says as much as what it does not say, the city argues to the court. The language reads a turnpike is to be built "to a point in the vicinity of Norman," but does not give the same degree of specific directions through Norman that other turnpike projects list in that bill.

Missing in the bill are the words, "connect," "connecting" or "loop" in the section of the bill which OTA bases an authorization to build an east Norman turnpike, the city's protest reads.

There is no mention in the statute of a "29-mile long north-south turnpike on the east side of the City of Norman reaching from the Moore/Norman boundary to a point south along I-35 just north of the City of Purcell," the city argues.

In the face of that argument, the city noted to the court that the bill does specify the East-West connector along Indian Hills Road and the Tri-City Connector through the west side of Oklahoma City from Airport Road east to Interstate 44.

Citing OTA's brief to the court, the city argued that the agency cannot claim the east Norman turnpike is simply a second phase of the Norman Spur.

The legislature adopted the spur in 1993. It opened in 2001 as an extension of the H.E. Bailey Turnpike that begins at "Mile Marker 99 and extends easterly eight miles until it connects with State Highway 9 at the intersection of U.S. Highway 62 north of Blanchard," the city noted.

The city called OTA's claim that the east Norman toll road is a second phase of the spur nothing more than a plan, rather than an authorized project by the legislature.

"[OTA] may have developed a plan, an idea or a concept that includes a new 29-mile north-south turnpike on the east side of Norman, but absent express statutory authorization, a plan or concept is what the South Extension project must remain because the decision whether to build resides with the people and their elected representatives in the Legislature, not the unelected Turnpike Authority."

The city also alleges that the high court cannot validate the legislature's language to include the turnpike in this case.

"The Supreme Court may not expand the plain meaning of words by construction," according to case law which determined laws "must be interpreted in accordance with their plain, ordinary meaning according to the import of the language used."

The city accused OTA of violating "these time honored rules of interpretation and construction."

Rob Norman f

iles protest

In its filing to the court, the city did not take up an additional argument in Norman's district court lawsuit that alleges the agency did not follow proper bond procedure.

He contends that the state's one bond issue rule means that no new turnpikes can be built because the agency should have paid for them at the time OTA issued its first bond in 1989.

Norman said he intends to bring those arguments before the high court.

"As with our district court lawsuit, our position is that the OTA cannot lawfully build any of the three new ACCESS Oklahoma turnpikes," he said in an email.

Norman quotes state law, which requires OTA to issue bonds "provided that any bonds issued for the construction of the proposed turnpike ... shall be issued as one issue for all four of the proposed turnpikes and shall be financed, constructed and operated under one bond indenture."

His filing echoed the city's point about the lack of authorization for the east Norman turnpike in the 1987 bill and the court's limits in its interpretation.

"Courts must presume that a legislature says in a statute what it means and means in a statute what it says," Norman wrote in his protest to the court.

News of the city's filing was welcome news to opposition group, Pike Off OTA, whom Rob Norman represents.

"Everyone is really pleased about it," said Pike Off spokesman Randy Carter. "It's more people supporting our cause and I would say a quite significant entity doing that, the third largest city in the state, I think is certainly good support."

Stan Ward, attorney for 200 residents in another lawsuit filed in May, had also filed a protest on Aug. 24, asking the court to deny OTA's hearing before the high court until his lawsuit against the agency is resolved.

The district court lawsuit accused OTA of violating the state's Open Meeting Act because its January and February meeting agendas did not sufficiently inform the public of its turnpike project plans.

OTA contended that matters related to the agency are to be heard solely by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

OTA says f

iling violates court rules

OTA spokeswoman Brenda Perry Clark said the agency cannot address the protest unless the court requires it.

"The Supreme Court rules do not permit the filing of a response to a protest unless the Court directs that one be filed; however, on September 8, OTA filed a separate Application with the Oklahoma Supreme Court asking that it issue a writ of prohibition that prohibits the District Court from exercising any further jurisdiction in the OMA case filed by Mr. Ward," her email reads.

Clark said its application addresses the city's brief.

"OTA believes that the brief it filed with its application appropriately and sufficiently addresses the City's protest."

City Attorney Kathryn Walker said the city's brief is "unrelated to the protests filed by other parties," in a statement to The Transcript.

Mindy Wood covers City Hall news and notable court cases for The Transcript. Reach her at or 405-416-4420.