Photo Credit: 
Chris Martin | For The Chronicle

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority will begin converting the state turnpike system to cashless tolling for motorists who normally pay with cash.

The conversion away from cash begins on the John Kilpatrick Turnpike in north Oklahoma City on July 25. A trial run has been conducted on one ramp in Jenks on the Creek Turnpike.

Conversion to cashless tolling on all other turnpikes will occur throughout the next four years. The H.E. Bailey Turnpike is scheduled for conversion in the spring/summer of 2022, said Jack Damrill, the OTA’s director of communications and facilities.

Toll booths and coin machines will become a thing of the past. Motorists who do not have a PikePass transponder will no longer have to stop to pay a toll. Instead, their license plate will be photographed automatically, and an invoice will be sent to the registered owner of the vehicle. This cashless tolling system is known as PlatePay.

“We recognize the fact that our customers want a safe, fast and efficient way to travel our system,” Oklahoma Secretary of Transportation and OTA Executive Director Tim Gatz said. “Converting to cashless tolling will relieve motorists who struggle to find cash to put in the coin machines.” One of the biggest complaints from patrons of Oklahoma’s turnpike system “is that we still expect them to carry a pocketful of quarters,” Gatz said.

Additionally, coin receptacles on Oklahoma’s turnpikes “have to be specially manufactured because nobody uses them anymore.”

Cashless tolling also will reduce the number of accidents at toll plazas, Gatz said. Turnpike toll plazas are “some of the highest accident locations on our network,” he told members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives’ Transportation Committee earlier this year.

That’s because they present three opportunities for traffic collisions: when a driver exits the turnpike to enter the toll plaza, when a motorist stops at the toll booth, and “when you re-enter the mainline.”

A Jackson County Medical Services ambulance traveling from the Altus area to Oklahoma City on the H.E. Bailey Turnpike plowed into the toll booth at Newcastle in June 2020. Four people were injured: a patient, two paramedics, and the toll attendant, who “somehow survived the horrible accident,” Gatz recalled.

The OTA’s 236 toll attendants will be retrained for other jobs as PlatePay advances, he said.

PlatePay rates will be substantially more than PikePass rates. The OTA approved new toll rates for customers who will begin receiving PlatePay invoices for travel on the John Kilpatrick Turnpike later this month. The rates were unanimously approved by the OTA in June.

“We always encourage those who will be traveling the turnpike system that the cheapest way to travel is with a PikePass account,” Gatz said. PikePass benefits include:

• Lowest toll rates while traveling the turnpike system. PikePass customers receive nearly 20% discount on tolls across the turnpike system and a volume discount program.

• PlatePay customers will pay an average of 75% more than the current cash rates, because of the expenses incurred in collecting the tolls.

• Interoperability – you can travel on all Texas toll roads and the Kansas Turnpike system using a PikePass account.

• Easy online account access.

• No added fees.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Oklahoma’s electronic PikePass, Gatz said. Systemwide approximately 80% of toll transactions are electronic, and on the urban turnpikes (such as the Creek and the Kilpatrick) use of the PikePass is above 90%, Gatz said.

A new law that goes into effect November 1, House Bill 1788, will make it unlawful to operate a vehicle on an Oklahoma turnpike if the registered owner has any outstanding toll evasion violations. Authors of the measure were state Rep. Daniel Pae and state Sen. John Michael Montgomery, both Lawton Republicans.

To open a new PikePass account, visit www.PIKEPASS.com, www.PlatePay.com or www.drivingforwardok.com.

The Authority receives no tax money to operate the state’s turnpikes. Toll revenue pays all operating and maintenance costs for the turnpikes and pays off the bonds issued to finance their construction. In addition, the Authority also pays nearly $18 million for the salaries, equipment, and law enforcement activities of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers who police the turnpike system.

The Turnpike Authority estimates that “roughly 40%” of the tolls collected on its system are generated from out-of-state motorists. If tolls were eliminated, Oklahoma taxpayers would have to spend at least $125 million per year from gasoline taxes to maintain existing turnpikes, the Authority reports.

The OTA has provided the mechanism to finance the construction and maintenance of 10 toll roads totaling 606 miles of expressways via user fees.