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Advertise on the Tentacle

September 29, 2017

Road Sign Comparisons

Ken Kellar

I pull off a crowded highway and take the ramp to the Pennsylvania Turnpike tollbooth. I stop and get my ticket. I then roll down the ramp and merge onto Interstate 76 looking forward to the quality ride for which I will be paying a premium.


Often my first few miles on the turnpike are pleasant with low traffic and high speed limits. But that usually doesn’t last long. Soon the orange markers and signs start popping up: “Construction Ahead,” “Headlight Use Mandatory,” “Fines Doubled In Work Zone,” “Left Lane Ends, Merge,” “Trucks Left Lane Only.”


The 70 MPH signs are replaced by 55 MPH signs, sometimes 45 MPH. Then there are the Jersey barriers. A Jersey barrier can be a comforting safety feature when they are placed on the far side of an 8-foot shoulder and prevent oncoming traffic from hitting you. They are quite another thing when they are placed eight inches from your lane. They become a challenge to your driving skill. On the PA Turnpike, the barriers are often on both sides of your route, creating a challenging gauntlet.


The PA Turnpike crews often raise the gauntlet challenge by snaking those barriers left and right, requiring the drivers to swerve with high precision between the double rows of concrete. These barriers often run for miles. Passing a truck on those roads is a harrowing experience if you even dare to attempt it. Through all this I think to myself: “How crazy that I’m actually paying extra money for this experience!”


After miles of stressful driving, there is always one sign among the many threats and warnings that stands out. It says something like: “Your Toll Dollars at Work!” The sign may have some other more specific message like: “Lane Widening to Improve Your Driving Experience.”


I think the toll-dollar signs are expected to calm the stressed drivers and focus them on the bigger picture and broader time scale. I guess I am expected to think that “Driving today on the PA Turnpike really stinks and I was starting to resent the hefty toll I’m going to pay at the end of my ordeal. But that sign got me thinking. This current mess of a road is going to become a highway heaven. Next year will be great!”


And I did think that way the first year I drove the turnpike and saw the sign, the second year, too. By the third year I started feeling a bit jaded. Now it has been over 30 years of disappointment. I can honestly say I’ve never had a good trip on the PA Turnpike.


During my last “never again!” trip on the Turnpike, it dawned on me that the Turnpike is an excellent metaphor for American Progressivism: “We are investing in our children’s future!” “Once we eliminate XY or Z, it’ll be great,” “AB or C is a right.”


We’ve invested, eliminated and created new rights, yet still our country’s troubles continue. Often the solutions, as Ronald Reagan put it, become or exacerbate the problems. I’d rather drive 65 and need to swerve around a few potholes than drive 45 on pristine asphalt (no potholes on the Turnpike because creeping cars don’t damage the road).


With progressivism, we pay dearly for programs that don’t work, or worse, harm society in lasting tragic ways.


To be fair, the PA Turnpike is laid down over some very challenging natural terrain. The continuous series of small hills and ridges almost guarantee the PA Turnpike cannot become what is promised, no matter how many more years the road signs promise a better drive.


There are many beautiful roads in PA, some are indirect, following the natural ridge lines and valleys, the road taking straight lines where it can get them even if they don’t point straight at a destination. Other PA roads wind and undulate but with their slower, realistic speed-limits and open shoulders they provide a calm pleasant experience where I can drive the actual posted speed limit.


It’s only the PA Turnpike that tries to ignore the geographic realities of the land and cut straight across the rough terrain always promising a high-speed transit. Just one more year, just another $100 million and highway nirvana will be yours!


And so it goes for progressivism, which ignores the foundations of our civilization, we flawed humans. The progressive signs say, “Just a little more “investment”, another law or regulation or program, just another year and social heaven will be ours.”


I don’t believe those signs anymore.


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