Stitt aims to merge Department of Transportation, Turnpike Authority
Gov. Kevin Stitt wants to consolidate the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority.
Combining the two state agencies makes sense because they both focus on improving transportation in Oklahoma, Stitt said in a recent radio interview.
“My goal is to consolidate those two agencies because really, to us, to the people of Oklahoma, it’s all transportation,” he said. “I don’t like silos. I don’t like just doing what’s good for turnpike or just doing what’s good for transportation because it’s all infrastructure in our state.”
Oklahoma Secretary of Transportation Tim Gatz said he and Stitt have discussed the idea extensively. The governor is looking at Oklahoma’s transportation needs as a whole, Gatz said.
Stitt also said he'd like to see a situation where revenue from the turnpikes helps the state build and maintain other roads and highways, especially in rural parts of Oklahoma.
The consolidation conversation began when Stitt combined the jobs of leading the Turnpike Authority and Department of Transportation, said Gatz, who is the director of both agencies.
Through consolidation, the agencies would be able to find ways to work together to be more efficient, he said.
He pointed to Turnpike Authority maintenance facilities, where the department stores salt that is poured on the turnpikes when inclement weather hits. But when transportation crews are salting state highways, they have to return to a transportation department facility to replenish their salt supply instead of stopping at a turnpike storage facility that may be closer.
“There are all kinds of opportunities like that where we are really taking a deeper dive in looking at the organizational structures of those two agencies to find those opportunities where we can be more effective at performing the mission of the two organizations,” he said.
Transportation officials are talking about creating a long-term plan to evolve the two agencies, Gatz said.
No turnpike or transportation employees are in jeopardy of losing their jobs, he said. He also said it is unlikely that the department and the authority will be housed out of the same facility anytime in the near future.
“There’s really no way to pick the Turnpike Authority up and move it into the ODOT building or vice versa,” he said.
Combining the agencies is not a new idea, and has been discussed at various points in the state’s history.
In 1995, a state efficiency commission recommended consolidating the agencies to eliminate duplicate record-keeping tasks and facilities, like maintenance sheds. The report said the consolidation could lead to better use of personnel, facilities and equipment and result in an estimated annual savings of $3 million.
Gatz said it's too early to know what those cost savings would look like now.
One of the more complicated parts of a consolidation would be merging agency funding because both entities have some specific funding streams, Gatz said. The transportation department administers millions in federal grants and the Turnpike Authority has issued millions in bonds for various projects.
Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat filed Senate Bill 1775 this legislative session to consolidate the Turnpike Authority into the transportation department.
Gatz is not sure legislation is necessary for a consolidation to occur, but he said it is likely to spark a robust and healthy dialogue that could help in working through some of the specifics of combining the agencies.
“We are trying to create the transportation agencies and administration that’s going to carry the state forward for the next 20 years, and that doesn’t look like what we’ve looked like for the last 20,” Gatz said.