Skip to comments.Throwback Tulsa: Controversial Creek Turnpike opened 25 years ago
Posted on 06/12/2017 7:13:10 PM PDT by Tolerance Sucks Rocks
Least terns. A federal lawsuit. Greenpeace. Vandals. Industrious beavers. Angry homeowners. Bureaucratic delays.
These were among the obstacles and setbacks that had to be overcome before the Creek Turnpike was built. At one point, the chairman of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority declared it a total disaster and exclaimed:
The Creek Turnpike in Tulsa, God only knows when thatll be completed, John Kilpatrick said, as reported by the Tulsa Worlds Wayne Greene on Oct. 19, 1990.
If we had it to do all over again, we wouldnt do that project, the exasperated Kilpatrick said after federal bureaucrats held up construction of a bridge because of a wetland.
Three federal agencies had oversight: the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The first section opened 25 years ago on March 12, 1992. The initial 6.9-mile leg of the Creek Turnpike extended west along 96th Street from Memorial Drive to Harvard Avenue before dipping south, crossing the Arkansas River and intersecting with U.S. 75. It cost $105 million.
First envisioned as an expressway in the 1950s, the project languished for decades and most officials doubted it would ever be built. Then, in 1987, Gov. Henry Bellmon announced plans to build it as a turnpike.
Stunned and angered, homeowners in its path formed Tulsans Against Turnpikes and waged a fierce, prolonged fight.
Led by Dan Hale, the group filed suit in August 1989, seeking to stop work on the turnpike until all federal environmental requirements had been met.
Were not necessarily against every turnpike but were certainly against urban toll roads, Hale said during a rally at the state Capitol. That makes no sense whatsoever people dont take toll roads to go to the store or to go to work.
Turnpike foes and members of the environmental activist group Greenpeace held a rally at Hunter Park to protest the toxic toll road through south Tulsa.
They are going to be coming through here with plutonium rods, said Greenpeace spokeswoman DeDe McDade. They will be setting up Oklahoma as a hazardous waste dumping ground.
At one public hearing, 500 people packed the Performing Arts Center for more than five hours as 50 speakers took turns lambasting the proposal.
Please dont let OTA create an Exxon Valdez in south Tulsa, urged one woman, referring to the environmental disaster caused when a tanker spilled oil off the coast of Alaska.
Despite the protests, construction continued and bulldozers demolished homes in the path of the turnpike even before the federal court had ruled.
At one job site, two teenagers were ticketed for malicious mischief after vandals damaged construction equipment and poured sand into a trucks fuel line.
In May 1990, U.S. District Judge Thomas R. Brett issued his final order in the case, rejecting the claims of the homeowners.
The real issues in this entire matter transcend diurnal perch sites for bald eagles or loafing habitat for interior least terns, Brett wrote.
He said the real reasons were framed with great clarity in a letter from Tulsans Against Turnpikes stating that they would be adversely affected by noise, pollution, safety and declining property values.
They lost the legal challenge, but the homeowners won some environmental concessions.
Beavers built dams on a stream between Memorial Drive and Sheridan Road, creating a pond in the construction zone. Federal regulators advised the authority to build a bridge to preserve the beaver pond.
Its funny, until you start thinking about the fact it may cost us a couple of million to bridge it, turnpike authority environmental attorney Charles Shipley said in a Feb. 16, 1990, story by the Worlds Janet Pearson.
Army Corps of Engineers biologists also spotted at least eight interior least terns on a sandy island near the site of the Arkansas River bridge. The authority agreed to work around the terns nesting season so as not to disturb the birds, which were listed as an endangered species.
In the end, the turnpike authority was required to construct or preserve seven wetlands. It also built the road below grade with screening walls through residential neighborhoods.
The Creek Turnpike was an immediate success. Two weeks after it connected with U.S. 75, traffic was triple the previous estimates.
Eventually, the Creek was extended west to the Turner Turnpike and east, looping around Broken Arrow and joining the Will Rogers Turnpike. Its heaviest traffic is through south Tulsa, averaging about 26,000 vehicles a day in 2014, according to the turnpike authoritys website.
Before taking this, stop and get at least $10.00 in quarters. Most sections are 75 cents, but there is the ever so often 85 cent part. I just toss 4 quarters and go on.
A good way to bypass most of Tulsa from I-44 to get to the Turner Turnpike.
Has the Skelly Bypass been completely widened yet?
For as conservative a reputation as Oklahoma has, their highway department absolutely reeks to high heaven with the stench of institutional graft and corruption.
Other states non-toll roads are in far better condition than Oklahoma’s toll roads.
I went to Vail a few weeks ago on a fishing trip and stopped in Kansas to pay their toll and the guy said they now also accept Pike Pass. Nice and easy. Japanesee.
I drive this two years ago.
Hadn’t been home in 20 years and thought it was an odd place for a turnpike but hell, the ride and drive time were totally worth it.
Skelly Bypass?? The only road named Skelly is I-44 and it doesn’t “bypass” anything since it bisects Tulsa from SW to NE, right thru mid-town. The most recent widening project went from the Arkansas River to Memorial Road/BA Expwy & was completed around 2011, IIRC.
It was always called Skelly Bypass when I lived in Tulsa. Glad they FINALLY got it widened.
Took out the “Cramalot Inn” and lots of other hotels and businesses to do it.
This article makes much of the anti-road people, as articles about roadbuilding tend to do. I figure most of the time they’re simply a vocal minority. I’d be surprised if they continue to hate it now that it’s been open for a couple decades.
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