Lawton businessman Gene Love has been named chairman of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, and he said he’s excited about the opportunity to continue overseeing the improvements that OTA will bring to the state at large and Southwest Oklahoma in particular.
Love, a member of the OTA since May 25, 2011, will begin his term as chairman July 1, after being elected to the post at OTA’s June 23 meeting. As the District 5 representative, his area covers Western Oklahoma, which includes Lawton-Fort Sill.
Love said the only turnpike in District 5 is the H.E. Bailey Turnpike (which runs from Oklahoma City to the Oklahoma-Texas border).
“I’m very interested in that turnpike and making sure it is properly maintained,” he said. “Turnpikes provide the safest and best driving conditions of any roads in the state.”
Love said H.E. Bailey is one of the oldest turnpikes in Oklahoma’s system, second only to the Turner Turnpike, built to link Oklahoma City and Tulsa in 1953 (the 86.4-mile H.E. Bailey was built in the mid-1960s). Love said that age is important because concrete turnpike pavement has a 50-year life and the H.E. Bailey is about six years beyond that point.
“We’re doing some things to improve the driving conditions on the H.E. Bailey, in addition to other turnpikes in the state,” he said, adding OTA has done $65 million worth of projects on the H.E. Bailey Turnpike in the last five years, “which is pretty key.”
Love said of the six major projects in the state’s Drive Forward program, two are on the H.E. Bailey, including one that built a new Chickasha toll plaza south of that city (an estimated $15 million), and improved 8 miles of pavement from Newcastle into Oklahoma City ($18 million).
There are additional plans for the H.E. Bailey, to include one that falls under the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, a bypass around Oklahoma 81 in Chickasha.
But, the most visible improvement is pavement improvement being done on a 24-mile stretch between Chickasha and Oklahoma City, dowel bar retrofit and diamond grinding that is smoothing the road surface and joining concrete pad to level the road and shore up cracking. The entire H.E. Bailey Turnpike will be done in the next four years, Love said.
Love has some links to that work because he has chaired OTA’s engineering and construction committee since being appointed to the board in 2011. It’s a job he must surrender when he assumes the OTA chairman job July 1, and officials already have said John D. Jones, Oklahoma City, will take over that committee chairmanship.
Love retired from the U.S. Army in 1983, and it is that Army career that brought him to Lawton. He spent 11 years of his military career at Fort Sill, saying his children spent 11 of their 12 years of school at Lawton Public Schools.
“Lawton is my home,” he said, calling himself a “bonafide Oklahoman.”
He also has a history of service to Lawton, Southwest Oklahoma and Oklahoma at large, with former positions including Mayor of Lawton (he also served as a member of the City Council), the Lawton Fort Sill Chamber of Commerce, and the Oklahoma Transportation Commission. He said his current term on the OTA expires in 2022, making him the longest-serving member of the board.
He said he’s enjoyed the position because of what the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority brings to the state and he enjoys explaining the importance of its function.
“There are no free roads in the State of Oklahoma,” he said, adding the turnpikes are paid for by those who drive them, and once drivers pay off one turnpike, their fees pay for other turnpikes, “whether you drive them or not.”
Love said the Oklahoma turnpike system is among the cheapest in the country, with an average cost to drive of 6 cents per mile, compared to the national average of 13 cents per mile. He said the self-supported turnpike system gets an estimated 40 percent of its money from out-of-state drivers, with another 38 percent coming from truck traffic.
“Out-of-state drivers pay for maintenance of the system,” he said.