Friday, April 29, 2022

Andy Young: The Price of Driving

By Andy Young

Late last year the Maine Turnpike Authority announced it needed to collect more revenue (AKA money) on Interstate 95 (AKA the Maine Turnpike), and as a result the toll rate was going to be adjusted (AKA raised). 

While the reasons given for the escalation were understandable (continued cost of road maintenance and a COVID-related decline in toll revenue, among other things), the bottom line was that the increase was going to hit five-morning-per-week turnpike drivers right in our already-slender wallets.

It could have been worse. I travel south on the turnpike each day to my place of employment, but for those northbound folks who enter near where the York Toll Plaza used to be, the cost of getting on I-95 jumped to $4 dollars, a 33 percent boost. The hike for us southbounders wasn’t quite that steep, but still, an increase is an increase.

One of my north-in-the-AM co-workers began taking U. S. Route 1 (a toll-free path which runs parallel to the turnpike) each morning, and suggested I do the same. Ordinarily I’d have dismissed that proposal out of hand since the portion of the road I’d need to travel contains 39 traffic lights between Scarborough (where I’d get on) and Kennebunk (my destination). However, there’s not much traffic to compete with when I customarily hit the road. At that hour (around 5 a.m.) most of the signals are either blinking yellow or can be beaten by carefully slowing one’s approach to a red light, then prudently accelerating the moment it turns green.

Taking the toll-free route was a good plan, until the very day it wasn’t. One morning while zipping through Saco I saw blue lights in my rearview mirror. Compliantly giving way so the officer could continue pursuing whatever dangerous menace to society was on the loose, I was stunned when, after obediently pulling over, I discovered I was his quarry! 

The uniformed public servant approached my car and asked if I knew how fast I was going. The truth: of course I did, since there had been a big “49” displayed on my digital dashboard when I first saw the blue lights. But my (apparently involuntary) response was, “Ummmm, I think I was going 48, sir.” 

Fortunately, it was too dark for the officer to see my almost-immediate shame. Not only had I fibbed, but I had done so by one (1) mile per hour. Who lies by one mile per hour? And what good does it do?

Then he asked if I knew I was in a 35 mph zone, and I truthfully responded I did not. He took my license and registration, leaving me stewing over the irony and stupidity of getting a $200 speeding ticket because of a flawed effort to dodge a two-dollar toll. 

But providence smiled on me; the officer returned, presumably after ascertaining no warrants for my arrest existed, and told me kindly but firmly to please drive safely, which I pledged sincerely to do.

Lesson learned. 

Or perhaps not.

Early in the a.m. less than two weeks later I was motoring through Saco on Route 1 at what seemed like a snail’s pace when once again I saw blue in my rearview mirror. This time I was clocked at 47 mph. But once again I wasn’t ticketed, just cautioned (by a different, though slightly less friendly officer) to please slow down.

Is the old saying about the third time being the charm true? I for one do not intend to find out. Since that second encounter with the police, I’ve taken the turnpike (and grudgingly paid the toll) every morning. <

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