Mark Washburn

How to explain toll lanes to aliens

Traffic heads south on I-77 as construction continued at Exit 23 on the controversial I-77 toll lanes project.
Traffic heads south on I-77 as construction continued at Exit 23 on the controversial I-77 toll lanes project. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

If the aliens land here, their first question will likely be, “Grfsdz mirwqwk xnce?”

No, you slimy, reptilian gobs of goo, we would politely reply, it’s not a highway at all. It’s a pythonic monument visible from low-Earth orbit commemorating short-sightedness, desperation and inexplicable folly.

Last week, the best hope for derailing toll lanes masochistically engineered to constrict travel north of Charlotte for the next 50 years evaporated in Raleigh. A bill sponsored by Republican Reps. Charles Jeter of Huntersville and John Bradford of Cornelius to cancel the I-77 contract found no traction in the Senate.

Grand, snorting machines are already clawing the earth bare near Lake Norman for the lanes that will cost whatever the traffic will bear. In the peculiar logic driving this project, the more congested the two free lanes are, the more attractive – and hence more lucrative – the toll lanes become.

Never in the state’s history has an extortion scheme been applied to so many for so long.

Opponents to the scheme have fought a good fight, one that has awakened greater Charlotte to the coming battles over proposed toll lanes on Independence Boulevard and I-485.

There’s just not enough money to keep up with the need for highways in booming Charlotte, the administration of Gov. Pat McCrory chirps, and so the solution is to build lanes that you will pay for with every revolution of the tire. It’s the modern way.

No, it’s not. It’s a monumental failure of leadership.

Anything’s a bargain when compared with getting gouged by a Spanish investor who manages a selective monopoly on one of the state’s busiest arteries for the next 50 years.

Our roads are financed by the motor fuels tax. It’s not enough.

Our leaders in Raleigh lack the courage to raise it. Can’t vote for a tax hike.

You pay 34 cents a gallon at the pump for your roads. Last month you were paying 35 cents. Yes, the N.C. Senate arranged for a penny decrease even in the face of widespread need.

If we need to pay another dime in fuel tax for five years to catch up with our needs, now is the time to do it. Fuel is as cheap as it has been in years and anything under $3 a gallon still feels like a bargain.

Anything is a bargain, when you think about, when compared with getting gouged by a Spanish investor who manages a selective monopoly on one of the state’s busiest arteries for the next 50 years.

What kind of a solution involves compounding the problem for decades? Who improves transportation by encouraging gridlock?

To this kind of twisted thinking a monument is being carved from the red clay in I-77’s median.

Tens of thousands will get to visit it daily, and they will be guaranteed plenty of time to reflect on its significance – years and years and years.

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