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April 30, 2005

We’re on the Road to Nowhere

Tollroad

Could you find another image that better expresses that we’re living in two Americas?

This photo was on the front page of Wednesday’s NYT.  It accompanied an article describing how federal and state governments are converting highways to “pay-as-you-go,” and allowing private companies to build and operate toll roads.  The caption read:

At least one motorist, each way, was willing to pay the toll to drive the express lanes of a California freeway.”

As we speak, free market radicals are not just widening, but institutionalizing the class gap by turning over vital public assets to the private sector.  The maneuver couldn’t be more ironic, since drivers have underwritten the cost of these roads through the payment of gasoline levies.  At the same time, many localities are considering abandoning the carpool concept to convert these stretches into “pay lanes.”

What I like about this image is the way it quantifies privilege.  It’s plain to see how much room each class has to maneuver. 

I think color also has an effect here.  I’m sure the photographer was looking for almost any shot with at least one car in the “pay” lane.  It’s interesting, though, that he caught a red one.  In comparison, the cars on the “free side” form a monochrome field. In a subtle way, could it emphasize the intent of the ruling class that everyone of lesser means remain anonymous? 

In California, where the acting governor advocated closing the border the other day, the attitude is even meaner than that.  According to the article, in announcing a plan to allow private groups to construct toll roads, Schwarzenegger was quoted as saying:

“Californians can’t get from place to place on little fairy wings.”

Having branded California legislators as “girlie men,” could the “fairies” refer to anyone bunched on the traffic side of those yellow barricades?

(image: J. Emilio Flores, April 28, 2005 for The New York Times)

  • Kenny

    I know EXACTLY where that is. It’s on the 91 right after you transfer from the 57. Near Orange/Anaheim/Fullerton

  • Gary

    Private toll highways are a hallmark of third-world countries. The U.S. is in a period of decline. Wake up, sheeple!

  • George Myers

    I wonder, Captain Hulbert grew up on the corner of the toll road Sag Harbor Turnpike, his father a cobbler in Bridgehampton, NY. He faked the British Navy by marching his men up one hill, and with coats reversed around the hill, no free provisioning there in Montauk! He served with the Green Mountain Boys of Vermont and submitted a flag design (like a star of David or Solomon’s seal, a star at the center and one for each “corner”) for the new republic, a 19th century “fake” in the Suffolk County Museum. I wonder if in part, our early revolt was fueled by over-charged toll roads, we built. Nature Conservancy owns some of the land it goes through today.

  • http://scorpio.typepad.com/eccentricity/ Scorpio

    The Garden State Parkway, the toll road built privately in NJ in 1953 or so, has used this system. People use it because no trucks are allowed, and the alternative of 1 and 9 is so truck-bound it’s dangerous.
    The Parkway earned enough to duplicate itself as a high-speed, few exit parallel toll road with its profits. What I am saying is that private roads aren’t necessarily evil, and might have some good features compared to public roadways if run efficiently. (And it is — no orange barrels there.)

  • MonsieurGonzo

    Could you find another image that better expresses that we’re living in two Americas?
    oh, easily: the BUS filled with dark(er) skinned maids & service workers, or any BUS station -vs- any airport ~ in fact, the whole notion of “mass” transit -vs- privately owned cars ~ makes the same class / ethno- statement as the old steamship’s architecture of cabins and steerage.
    insofar as “two Americas” goes, i personally don’t think this image conveys the conceit inherent of “class” very well, or for that matter, the real gist of the article: privatisation of hitherto public utilities…
    …for their is No Logo
    now, you slap “ENRON ROADWAY” on there somewhere, and Zip-Zap,
    you get the point: it’s not class, BAGman ~ it’s crass (^_^)

  • Sonoma

    In todays fedral government, there excist only the ravenous wealthy, and then the rest.
    The past 5 years in America have opened my eyes to the virtues of history’s violent revolution. First and foremost, that of 1776.
    And I’m no spring chicken.

  • aethorian

    From the article Tollroads: Their Past & Their Future at TollRoadsNews:

    Electronic tolling is being used in the middle 4-lanes of the 12-lane SR-91 highway in Orange County California for motorists in a hurry and willing to pay for “express” service. Investors forked out $126m to build the “91-Express” facility in return for the right to levy tolls. While traffic in the ‘free’ lanes makes an average 20 to 30mph during rush hours, those willing to pay for the privelege (currently $2.75 for a 10 mile trip) go through at 65mph or so. Almost all over the US special lanes reserved for high occupancy vehicles (HOV lanes) are being underutilized and the federal, California and Texas governments are encouraging toll ‘buy-in’ schemes.

    I live in another state about 60 miles from the airport, and can make it there in about an hour if I travel 30 miles on a tollway. My 60 mile round trip on the tollway costs about $10 plus gas. Our regular highways are always slower, but I still begrudge the $10.00 and avoid the tollway when I have time.
    I get a monthly email report that specifies my exact toll route, all tracked wirelessly by toll stations that ping a radio ID beeper inside my car. I don’t like the fact that my location is being monitored, either. If an unknowing motorist, sans beeper, happens to use the drive-through lanes at a toll station, their rear license plate is automatically photographed and they are issued a ticket and fine by postal mail.
    This automated sytem gives government the ability to justifiably catch the ignorant and scofflaws, perhaps with the primary purpose of improving revenues. However, it also gives them the opportunity, should they choose to do so, to calculate my speed between any two toll stations. If I were to arrive at the next checkpoint sooner than by driving at the maximum posted speed limit, clearly I’ve been speeding. Automatic speeding tickets—without the expense of (or risk to) manned police cruisers—are not that far away.
    Toll roads themselves aren’t the problem: it’s the spread of electronic monitoring that hitchikes along with them that really bears watching. From the NYT article:

    The White House wants to allow states to charge user fees for virtually any stretch of an interstate.
    It is shaping up as one of the biggest philosophical changes in transportation policy since the toll-free interstate highway system was created under President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956. It mirrors changes taking place overseas as well. London began charging tolls two years ago to enter the center of the city during weekday business hours.
    It’s a big and important shift, and we in the Bush administration think its time has come,” said Mary E. Peters, the federal highway administrator, in an interview. The administration is trying to make it easier for states to convert car pool lanes to toll lanes, and to allow private investors to build and operate highways – and charge for their use.

    In central London, a system of fixed and van-borne video cameras are used to enforce the tolls, but this could be cumbersome and expensive on larger highway systems like those in the United States. Technology rolls ever onwards, though, and systems have been proposed that use RFID license plates to record our every turn on sensor-equipped roads. If toll roads eventually extend across the United States, it’s very likely that all cars will be tracked in real-time wherever they go.
    GPS systems already do this in many commercial trucks (“The bottom line is that a rig can be instantly tracked to help make sure things are moving in the right direction.“) and in some factory-equipped cars.
    While traffic on my tollway is relatively light (mainly due to the expense, I suspect), population density is going up as new subdivisions grow in along the route. The day will undoubtedly come when traffic density equals that on the older highways, encouraging the powers that be to institute yet another round of electronic management. Of course, this will be for the public good, safety, efficiency, global warming, anti-terrorism, or some such thing. They’ll throw away all that data when they’re through with it, too.
    Big Brother hasn’t arrived quite yet, but keep checking your rearview mirror.

  • http://twigsandbranches.blogspot.com Birdie

    Here in fly-over-land (central Minnesota) I’ve noticed two things car:
    (1) In the parking lot at work, nearly all are red, white or navy, just like that California highway, and(2) there are NO junkers on the road anymore. Even high school kids have newer, rust free vehicles.
    (Just a ‘hmm’ kinda comment, that’s all).

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