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Parkway will only add to our troubles

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By JAN GLIDEWELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 6, 2001


Once again the forces of government, greed and goofy thinking have created what is being hailed as a major accomplishment: a new way for us all to get nowhere faster.

Not that I won't eventually get on the new Suncoast Parkway and take it somewhere, although I hate toll roads and I am resistant to changes in routes because I have the gene that prohibits some men from ever asking for directions.

Friends tell me I have a firm grasp of the obvious, if not of reality, and they might be right; but Florida's approach to solving its transportation woes -- building more soon-to-be-inadequate roads -- just plain gives me the giggles.

The closest thing I have seen to a worthwhile highway innovation in 30 years is the Orlando Greenway, which -- if you are headed to the east coast or Orlando International Airport -- bypasses the nightmare that is downtown Orlando and saves you about an hour.

The downside of that is that you will spend a portion of the saved time behind someone who can't find change for the omnipresent toll booths.

Getting to Tampa faster, for those of us up here in the Northern badlands, is important. I badly need to cut 15 minutes off the time expended between when I leave my house and when I hit my third red light in a row on Fowler Avenue or listen to two entire books-on-tape trying to get past Raymond James Stadium on a game day.

And on the new road, it seems I will be stopping here and there to pay tolls unless I get one of those fancy electronic window gizmos, which is sure to work just as well as the radar detectors that you can see plainly visible on the dashboards of drivers getting speeding tickets.

Twenty-four hours ago, at this writing, I was driving west on Interstate 4 in bumper-to-bumper traffic remembering what a great idea it seemed like when the transportation geniuses decided a highway through a bunch of little jerkwater towns would be good idea.

The problem with superhighways is that they tend to make jerkwater towns into thriving metropoli and then you find yourself sandwiched in between massive trucks and minivans full of sightseers on their way to places like Micanopy, which barely qualified as a wide spot in the road 30 years ago.

Pasco County always thought the solution to U.S. 19 was to build more north-south thoroughfares in the wilderness, with the wilderness quickly being bought up and overbuilt by people who could sell houses in what they would style as "bedroom communities."

I am a firm believer that most Florida transportation planning isn't done so much around demographic or land use surveys as it is around a perceived shortage of Waffle House and Cracker Barrel restaurants, towel outlets and motels operated by people who think the nationality of their ownership is an important advertising draw.

I am vaguely interested that the new parkway promises me a quicker route to the airport, but it won't do me much good. I've spent entirely too much time in line waiting while some fender-bender is being cleared or getting through a single-lane bottleneck on yet another (what Shakespeare would have called it) blasted heath along a permanently under-construction I-75. So now I just leave early for the airport -- 24 hours early.

In all but the most time-pressed emergencies, I spend the night at the Airport Marriott which is pricey but pays for itself in the savings on psychotherapy sessions and tranquilizer purchases. (Plus it means you can get a bellman to help you with your luggage in an airport where the only thing harder to find than your car in the parking lot is a skycap.

But don't be misled by all of those tree-hugging do-gooders who keep whining about the fact that we are destroying wildlife habitat and the quality of life in our communities.

If our state and national governments were not honest, wise and benign, we would be having things such as water shortages in Florida and power shortages in California.

So relax.

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