Governor Mary Fallin has the fate of Muskogee, Wagoner and other cities along Hwy. 69 in her hands. Literally, Senate Bill 86 will be sent to her desk after its passing on the Senate floor Tuesday.
The bill will give municipalities the power to approve or not approve any proposed Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) bypass within the city limits.
ODOT has recently proposed a bypass around the City of Muskogee, superseding a previously announced plan in the department’s 2016 eight-year plan, that caused piqued concerns among civic leaders from within and surrounding cities.
Muskogee Mayor Bob Coburn reached out to Wagoner Mayor Albert Jones and Pryor Mayor Jimmy Tramel – two cities that will be affected by ODOT’s current direction – in an effort to rally support for the passing of Senate Bill 86.
“SB 86 is a great opportunity to show what can happen when municipalities work together,” Coburn said. “This has certainly been a team effort – from citizens, business owners, other cities, state legislators, our chamber of commerce and so many others.”
In a recent announcement, the transportation department specified plans for a $80-100 million bypass that would break away from the existing Hwy. 69 a few miles south of Muskogee, creating an approximately 9.5-mile loop to the west of the city before reconnecting to the existing Hwy. 69 near the Arkansas River a few miles north.
This would allow thru-traffic and truckers to circumvent the multiple stoplights and traffic congestion on the current Hwy. 69 thoroughfare, thus increasing travel times.
How much travel time will be saved?
In the range of 4-10 minutes, Senator Dwayne Pemberton (R-Muskogee) said during debates on the Senate floor.
Senator Kim David (R-Porter), author of the bill, answered numerous questions throughout the reading, encouraging other senators who voted no on the bill’s first appearance to change their mind and support it.
“It doesn’t matter what the population of the city is,” David said from the floor. “Every Oklahoma city matters … This bypass will hugely impact the economy in eastern Oklahoma.”
Her arguments worked. The bill passed 32-11.
Following the vote count, Coburn and Jones met with the Office of the Governor to encourage a municipal voice in her decision to sign the bill.
“It was a great opportunity to hear Governor Fallin’s policy and legislative directors assure me that every voice matters to the governor, not just the transportation department’s,” Jones said.
Fallin has five days to make a decision.
This article was written by Josh Allen.