Sunday, July 22, 2012

Three random thoughts

Every once in a while along comes a rather interesting radio commercial, one that truly shows imagination.  One currently playing on local radio is a spot by, I think, the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT).

Rather than just telling people the obvious, there's construction on I-295 through Portland, this spot turns it into a clever driver reminder.  Rather than simply warning of construction zones, the announcement invites drivers to just slow down and enjoy the wonderful sights of concrete barriers, narrower driving lanes, occasional delays, etc.  Instead of warning us of the dangers, the ad cleverly points out the dangers of driving through construction zones by pointing out why I-295 is a popular tourist attraction in Southern Maine.

The ad doesn't warn.  It doesn't lecture.  It simply points out that road construction is a part of summertime driving in Maine and there are dangers to both drivers and workers.  It's one of the better radio advertisements that have come out of our state government.

Speaking of ads, there are several TV commercials that I've noticed lately, mostly for shops specializing in fast foods such as coffee and hamburgers.  These long standing national franchises have moved into the specialized coffee market.  You know, lattes and stuff like that.  I can't comment on the qualities of the drinks as I have never, and I do mean "never," had one and probably never will. 

But the commercials fascinate me.  We see the tall cups of these exotic coffees filled over the brim with foam, which I assume is whipped cream or the like, with other syrups poured over them.  Then the buyers allegedly take drinks through straws from them.  The tops never move down in the cup.  I often think these drinks must not be very good as the drinkers only want a tiny sip just to pretend they're drinking the stuff.

There is one with some of the drink missing, but some guy literally takes a full one away from his companion.  All I think of when I see that one is, "I sure do hope she sees what kind of guy she's with and dumps him right away."

Yep!  I see the commercials so they must be more effective than I'm admitting.  I don't think they are as I cannot name the companies associated with them.  I just notice how bad the ads are.

Those of us who use the Maine Turnpike are heading for higher fees.  We're told a previous Authority administration did what is turning out to be an unfair job of structuring huge bonds that paid for new bridges and widening in the southern section over the past several years.  Bonds, of course, have to be repaid with interest. 

The earlier payments apparently were primarily just interest and minimal principal amounts.  Now significantly larger principal payments, along with the interest, must be made.  Traffic on the 'Pike is down, according to published reports, exacerbating the problem.  So tolls must be adjusted.  We don't know the final adjustments, yet, as they are currently being discussed by the Authority's Executive Board. 

It is pretty apparent that the York toll will increase to $3.00 from the current $2 and other exit tolls, such as those in Gray-New Gloucester, the Northern end, the Falmouth spur, and the exit leading to I-295 will increase.  We also led to believe that users of EZ-Pass will see usage increases.  I haven't read that returning tolls to all those places between Gray-New Gloucester's booth and Augusta will be restored.

The people on the northern end of the 'Pike feel they are paying an unfair share.  The people on the southern end have expressed the same concerns.  I do agree that cash users passing through most booths with a dollar charge and then pay even more to get off at York, Gray-New Gloucester, I-295 or Falmouth to U.S. Route One while others can get off with no additional fee might be a wee bit unfair. 

I also wonder how a state that relies so heavily on tourists can possibly believe that paying $3.00 to enter or leave in York is inviting to our guests.  Some toll must be collected to pay back the huge bond debt that has been created; but in a trip my wife and I took earlier this month to Pennsylvania, we went through several toll booths, such as the Tappan Zee Bridge, the New York Thruway (which may have used its EZ-Pass lanes to charge only trucks and other commercial vehicles), and the Delaware River bridge at the Pennsylvania border on I-78, where tolls were charged in one direction only.

In fairness, that's how some of our collections take place on the Maine Turnpike.  Cash riders pay to enter at the South Portland entrance, for example, pay a buck, but leave at, say, Exit 48 with no further charge.  There are, of course, additional charges if those riders exit at one of the previously mentioned exits.

I can't help but wonder if ridership is down now how making it even more expensive will improve that condition.  I do, however, understand that more money must be collected to pay for the poor planning of the previous Authority.  It tried to keep tolls down then, but often such decisions eventually come back to bite us.  It's time to bend over.