DOT Issues TIFIA Loan for Oklahoma Expressway Project

A rendering of part of the Gilcrease project. (Oklahoma Turnpike Authority)

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The U.S. Department of Transportation recently announced it will provide a loan for up to $120.1 million to the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority for an expressway project in the Tulsa area.

The Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan, announced May 20, will be provided through DOT’s Build America Bureau. Rather than grants, the TIFIA program offers direct loans that support projects related to highways, bridges, intelligent transportation systems, freight facilities and transit.

Specifically, the loan will be dedicated to the Gilcrease Expressway West project, which is meant to relieve congestion during peak travel hours. Tulsa is about 100 miles northeast of Oklahoma City.

“This $120.1 million federal investment in the Gilcrease Expressway reflects the president’s continued emphasis on infrastructure and will promote economic growth by reducing congestion for residents and travelers in the Tulsa, Okla., region,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said.

The project will involve creating a 5-mile divided toll highway, which will complete a leg of the existing beltway loop around Tulsa. Design features include 22 bridges, four interchanges and a multi-use trail that will run parallel to the expressway.

Besides easing congestion, the project is meant to improve connectivity to Tulsa’s attractions, particularly for communities across the Arkansas River.

Jordan Perdue, senior financial analyst for OTA, identified the Arkansas River, a tributary of the Mississippi River, as a “major barrier” for the transportation of goods and people in the Tulsa area.

“For industry out in that area, this is going to really provide them a vital link across the river that was vastly needed for quite some time,” Jack Damrill, OTA’s director of communications, told Transport Topics. “There are numerous companies out there that rely on big haulers to move freight.”

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The new expressway will form a connection between Interstate 44, which cuts across Missouri and Oklahoma, and U.S. Route 412, which links Tennessee to New Mexico. According to OTA, the I-44 corridor is a major freight route. Also, this corridor links to I-35, which passes through Oklahoma City and forms a major conduit for freight moving through Dallas.

The project is a partnership among OTA, the city of Tulsa, Tulsa County, the Indian Nations Council of Governments, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, federal government representatives and private investors. OTA will be responsible for operating and maintaining the project. (The estimated completion date is June 2022.)

“We really appreciate all the partners that were involved in this,” Damrill said. “If one of those entities had stepped aside, the project would not have gotten done, so it really was an effort by all of the agencies to come together.”

Gilcrease Contract Award Press Release by Transport Topics on Scribd

The TIFIA loan will be paid back by gross toll revenue and supplemental funds from the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. This project is Oklahoma’s first to use TIFIA credit assistance.

DOT’s Build America Bureau, designed as a “one-stop-shop” for credit opportunities, administers credit and grant programs, provides technical assistance and offers best practices for project planning, financing and delivery.

According to DOT, the agency has issued nearly $7.9 billion in TIFIA assistance during Chao’s tenure. These financings have supported more than $27.6 billion in infrastructure projects. State and local government agencies, private firms and special authorities are eligible to apply.

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