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    A Times Editorial

    Of monotubes and monocrats

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published September 2, 2001

    These things are not, as one local radio station has so indelicately insisted, sewer pipes that pump unmentionable things above the ground and over passing cars. Rather, they are, in the words of their state Department of Transportation caretakers, "monotubes." Their job is to hold up traffic signals and road signs against all of nature's odds, and such performance is apparently what requires them to be of considerable girth, as signposts go.

    The monotube stretched across Park Boulevard and 66th Street in Pinellas Park, a structure that has suffered remarkable ignominy in its short life, is a pipe 36 inches in diameter, 21 feet high and 130 feet across. It weighs 30 tons. DOT spokeswoman Marian Pscion says her phone is not ringing as much these days, since the state agreed to spend $129,000 to repaint the $260,000 monotube from chestnut bronze to sky blue.

    But the monotube specter still weighs so heavily on elected officials in Pinellas that some have joined together to pass a resolution condemning them as "unattractive, obstructive and objectionable" and "detrimental to the visual character of our county as a whole."

    In other words, they're butt ugly.

    Now perhaps it is fitting that such a steel structure would rise from the sea of concrete and asphalt that frames Park and 66th. It's not as though the intersection is a place where people routinely come to picnic, or exchange wedding vows, not what Thoreau had in mind when he wrote of the "indescribable innocence and beneficence of Nature." That said, how is it that a state government agency could think a 30-ton pipe would perk up any neighborhood?

    To its credit, DOT has moved quickly to respond to criticism, and Pscion says there are many options for other state road signs that may not be as obtrusive to the communities that must live with them.

    But the monotube is, if nothing else, an emblem for what far too many residents like to derisively call Florida's faceless bureaucracy. In this case, let's call it a monocracy, and the scenario was something like this: Some state engineer decided after Hurricane Andrew that traffic lights need to survive 130-mile-per-hour hurricane force winds, and suddenly big $260,000 pipes start appearing on the landscape (Largo has one too).

    Never mind that the power lines, which supply electricity to the traffic lights, are not similarly protected. Or that the roads surrounding the Pinellas Park intersection in question tend to flood in heavy rains anyway. Or that people might not like how they look.

    When he was inaugurated, Gov. Jeb Bush said that "the best and brightest ideas do not come from the state capital." Maybe he had the monotube in mind.

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