Penny Lanes

Spotlight On
Clark Westfield
February 2014

By now everyone has heard the sordid saga of “Bridgegate,” the TV-ready drama dealing with the shut down of several lanes on the George Washington Bridge that led to massive traffic jams in and around Ft. Lee, and massive ratings for MSNBC, the network that might as well advertise, “All Christie All the Time.” If Fox News is all, “Obamacare 24/7,” then its liberal counterpart is totally devoted to who-did-what, who-knew-when and what David Wildstein did in high school. Please, enough already. We get it. Springsteen appeared alongside Jimmy Fallon and parodied “Born to Run” for the amusement of the masses (and the disappointment of the Governor, a huge (no pun intended) Bruce fan. But what about the true source of the dilemma? Why does traffic back up so drastically, even on a clear day when there are no cones to be found, whether they are orange or ice cream? In a word – tolls.

New Jersey could easily be called “The Toll Booth State” as easily as “The Garden State.” I’m almost sure there is now a tollbooth at the end of my driveway. And let me tell you, tossing a quarter in reverse is no easy feat. The Parkway, Turnpike, AC Expressway, bridges, tunnels, etc… there is no escape. I understand the need for revenue to maintain our highway infrastructure. As an example, the Parkway is undergoing a major widening, a project that seems to have started when Carter was president. Seriously, are they building a runway? As a direct route between the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States, more cars and trucks traverse our roads than anywhere in the United States. All the more reason for a smoother, more efficient traffic flows. Thankfully, EZ Pass has alleviated some congestion, especially with the new express lanes that require no tollbooths at all. It still amazes me that more drivers have not signed on to this service. Every time I pass through one of these, I wonder about the people in those long lines at the one lane open for direct change.

I believe these are the same people who get to the end of a long customs and immigration line and then realize they left their passport on the plane, or the ones who have full carts of groceries at the supermarket and are surprised to discover their wallet was left on the kitchen counter. (By the way, as streamlining goes, my local Stop and Shop has merged with the old A & P. It is now known as “Stop and P.”)

By the way, does anyone even remember when tolls on the Parkway were a quarter? It was a sport to see who could go through the booths without stopping as we flipped that coin from the driver’s side, or sometimes when we had a passenger, the opposite window. Many made it, some did not. The bells would ring yet we never stopped. That would just screw up the guy behind us, right, and who needed that?

I confess that I don’t even know how much tolls are anymore. I just trust that EZ Pass will pay it. It’s not until weeks later when I get my EZ Pass statement that I sit stunned, examining the charges that seem the equivalent of the gross national product of a small third world nation. Seriously, it may be New York and not New Jersey, but every time I drive through Staten Island, I don’t know whether to take the Verrazano Bridge or buy a new Kia. And that’s just for a standard automobile, a two-axel compact. I cannot even fathom the price for a large tractor-trailer. Is there any way out of this? Any respite from the cost or the congestion?

I would say take mass transit, but after the Super Bowl that might not cut either.
Maybe “Blunder Road” wasn’t such a bad idea after all. But that’s just me.

More to Come… CW

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