(This post could be considered a "topic in progress," since I don't have the usual links to my sources here, but I wanted to get the discussion going while the topic's still fresh.)
The Highway 121 toll road starts living up to its name today, as tolls are being collected for the first time. The interesting feature about 121 is that it's 100% electronic--no tollbooths, no money changes hands anywhere. The road, which is the first toll road to be managed by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) instead of one of the regional tollway authorities, can capture information from motorists in one of two ways: by reading any TollTag from anywhere in the state, or by reading the license plate number off the car and sending a paper bill a little later. (If you're in this area, you've probably heard their catchy little "Pay Your Toll While You Roll" jingle on radio.) The road's been done since September, but they used the past few months as a "trial period" to get the equipment installed and tested.
I've noted before that I'm perfectly happy with toll roads if it means that they get built now and not twenty years from now. (Sure, it would be nice if the Legislature didn't divert our gasoline taxes to other expenditures, but since they do, I'm happy to affix a TollTag to my windshield if it means avoiding 27 stoplights on my way somewhere.) But something I heard about on Ernie and Jay earlier in the week was very concerning to me: Evidently, if you drive on the tolled 121 now with out-of-state plates, you can be fined (this has something to do with the fact that Texas has no way to call up billing information on cars from other states the way it does with people here). And supposedly, TxDOT has no plans to install signs warning people about this before the tolled sections begin.
This doesn't affect me personally, of course, but it bothers me that something like this wasn't thought out very well. They've made a provision for rental cars (the rental agency is billed, and they in turn bill the customers according to when the car was being used), but not out-of-state drivers? And they're not even going to so much as warn them? I'm sorry, but that's poor planning on TxDOT's part, and it makes me wonder if having someone other than the NTTA (or its counterparts in Houston and Austin) operate the toll roads was a bad idea.
The only thing is, I can't find a link for this story anywhere, and I tuned into Ernie and Jay too late to find out their source for this story. All I know is that I can't find anything about it in the paper, KRLD's website or TxDOT's website, so I don't want to squawk too loudly until I see this idea in writing. But still, if that is exactly how this situation will be dealt with, they need to do some re-thinking, and fast.
More on this story as I collect additonal information...
School experiment gone awry....and fast, too: A California teenager took home one of those realistic baby dolls that are often given to students to help them practice being a parent. On her way home, the doll started to cry, startling the young driver so much that she swerved her car into a freeway guardrail and then back out onto the road and into a pickup truck.
And you thought you couldn't concentrate on your test: Final exams will soon be underway at most colleges, and students can only hope their experience is not like that of a group of students at the College of Charleston (S.C.), who had to put up with the sounds of a pile driver sinking columns for a new campus building next door.
They're unburritable: Chipotle recently held a contest that called for college-student filmmakers from all over the country to come up with a 30-second TV ad for the restaurant. Here's the winning entry, from down the road at SMU, and the runner-up from Nebraska, which has a bit of a mean streak. (I have no idea why the SMU one was flagged as inappropriate content; umm, maybe the girl is too pretty? Also, I really like this one from SMU, where a guy likes the smell of Chipotle burritos so much that he uses a tortilla as a dryer sheet.)