Man, There’s an Opera Out There on the Turnpike
Remember the recent blog post about a proposal by New Jersey government officials to build some new high-ticket private lanes on the Turnpike?
A reader named Leonard Hargiss let us know that he’d written a letter to N.J. governor Jon Corzine and the state’s transportation commissioner back in January with a very similar idea — and some other ideas too. “I’m beginning to think they read it,” Hargiss says.
Hargiss, 50, works as a chemist for a pharmaceutical research firm. He moved to N.J. as a young adult and “soon learned the central facts of New Jersey politics, namely that New Jersey voters are cynical, and New Jersey politicians give voters good reason to be cynical.” That said, “Corzine has earned my admiration (and sympathy) for trying to force the legislature to think long term, another irony since he certainly doesn’t need the job.”
Hargiss’s letter is pretty entertaining, I think you will agree — especially the notion of a Milton Friedman first-class rest stop:
Dear Governor Corzine:
The citizens of New Jersey must decide how to manage a financial crisis that has resulted from both decades of wishful thinking and their leaders’ lack of political courage. A major source of anxiety is the future of the New Jersey Turnpike. Following are a few ideas for improving the finances of the Turnpike Authority, which may have escaped the notice of the planners.
1. Thorstein Veblen would instantly recognize New Jerseyans’ need to be conspicuous consumers. How else to explain the holiday mobs at Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom? The Turnpike already comprises both car and truck lanes north- and south-bound between exits 8A and 18. Why not convert the car lanes to first class? The surcharge will provide the same function as toll roads in Texas and Colorado (and alas! the late Concorde) that provide faster travel options for those who … er, think it’s worth it. And we can do it with minimal adverse travel impact by adding an EZ-Pass Express receiver at the entrances to the first class lanes. If traffic gets bad in steerage, then presto! More people will pay the surcharge. And if that is successful, maybe we can attract Wolfgang Puck and Emeril Lagasse to the first class service areas, I mean spas. We can name the first one after Milton Friedman (BA, Rutgers U., 1932).
2. Private toll roads elsewhere have already negotiated penalties, payable to the toll authority, when public roads steal their business (USA Today, November 6th, 2007). But the state can play that game! Why not install speed humps or lower the speed limit to 25 on US Routes 1 and 130? During low traffic periods, drivers will flock to the Turnpike. And when traffic is heavy, the speed scarcely exceeds 25 [m.p.h.]anywhere, equalizing the travel times.
3. While New Jerseyans are notoriously cynical about their political leaders, there is one service which they completely entrust to the state. Millions of lottery tickets are sold daily, even though the odds heavily favor the house. But thanks to the EZ-Pass system, the N.J.T.P.A. already has access to our bank accounts. Then why not add a little sizzle to the drive? Selected exit lanes can be marked with a lottery symbol, and drivers can take a chance with every commute. My wife even thought of a great name, “Tollo.” And who knows? Gamblers traveling to or from Atlantic City would surely go out of their way to take the Turnpike. During low traffic periods, people might play for fun, and telecommuters could even play from their desktops!
4. The Turnpike has already attained cult status to the public as a 50’s icon and to engineers as a “Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.” And this is just 50 years after a Turnpike contractor dug up a cemetery in Newark and scattered the bodies. Now that wind and acid rain have metaphorically taken a toll on the original signage, just what image are we projecting to Philadelphians at Interchange 4 with the sign, “N W JE SEY TU ~PI?” We can sell lots of these original items on eBay, and help to preserve our heritage with the bargain. (For openers, I’ll offer them $100 on “Buy it Now” for the “Kiss and Ride” sign at the Vince Lombardi service area).
5. Does anyone really think I-95 will ever be finished between Lawrenceville and Edison? How much toll revenue are we losing because northbound drivers instinctively stay on Route 95 through Philadelphia? Most of the Turnpike was already designed for 75 m.p.h. speeds, so surely it can be easily upgraded to interstate standards. And let Pennsylvania pay for the “95W” signs on the old I-95 spur. It’s the least they can do for the years of greeting westbound drivers on I-78 with a sign in Easton stating, “Welcome to Pennsylvania. America starts here!”