Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Phantom Tollbooth (Modern Version)

When I was a kid, one of my favorite books was The Phantom Tollbooth, the story of a kid named Milo who had all kinds of unusual adventures when he drove his toy car through a magical tollbooth that he receives mysteriously one afternoon as a gift. But now, the title takes on a new meaning; as of today, there will no longer be such a thing as a "tollbooth" in the North Texas area, as the North Texas Tollway Authority completes its transition to cashless tolling.

It's not exactly a new thing; tolls on the Bush Turnpike has been all-electronic for over a year now, but it took a while for some of the older facilities, like the Dallas North Tollway and the Addison Airport Toll Tunnel, to get retrofitted. The big, clunky buildings that stretched across the highway have either had their cash lanes eliminated or been replaced by the new, smaller "gantries" that adorn the newer roads in the system. And while the NTTA went to great lengths to retrain its toll collectors for other positions in the agency, it still marks the end of an era in local transportation.

There's been pseudo-automation in the toll road industry for decades, of course, ever since the first coin-operated toll baskets were installed in, what--the '50s? As a little kid, I always liked the "throw in the basket" tolls more than the "pay the man" tolls, mostly because Dad would let me toss the coins in the former. But I wonder if anyone imagined even two decades ago that everything would be automated at this point in time. (Yeah, they probably did, and they also likely thought the toll plazas would be elevated to accommodate our flying cars, LOL.)

I guess my only question for the NTTA is if/when the big hulky plazas on the Bush will be replaced by gantries; as it stands now, there's a lot of excess concrete out there where the cash lanes used to be, and it's a little annoying that the onramps start out wide and narrow to a single lane to enter the highway. But I guess that will all happen soon enough.

So if you drive through a toll plaza today--not having to slow down at all to do so--think back for a moment and remember the folks whose jobs have now been assigned to the pages of history.

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