Tuesday, November 28, 2006

"Roadkill would be a welcome addition."

Fixing to try out the free toll roads? Leave the camera in the glove box

November 28, 2006

John Kelso
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2006

I finally got around to taking a look at the sections of new toll road that opened up on Nov. 1 for a free trial run.

The top attraction on my trip? I'd say the Wag-A-Bag on the north side of Texas 45 North. You know that when the top destination on your 30-or-so-mile trip is a place to buy bottled water and jerky, your travel agent isn't going to recommend this trip. These stretches of road are so boring that the occasional roadkill would be a welcome addition.

People are always complaining about billboards. But the parts of Texas 130, Texas 45 North and the northern extension of MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) that opened are so bereft of scenery that billboards would be an improvement.

I think the state has done a disservice by conning the public into coming out and trying the new toll roads at no cost for a couple of months. If you're going to ask somebody to take a look at a new road, you ought to at least give him something to look at.

I think I've come up with a new word to describe these Godforsaken stretches of highway: photoungenic.

Among the other highlights during my drive were a RoomStore, a large white sign that says "All Traffic Pay Toll 1 Mile," a Wachovia building, a Dell office, a trailer and a large aluminum building with the word "ICE" displayed prominently on the side.

Oh, yeah, and I also saw several water towers. You know there isn't much reason to put film in your camera if all you're going to drive past is water towers. And none of them even displayed the mascot of a high school football team. The words "slide show" don't come to mind when you check out these water towers.

One thing that bugged me about my tour? I saw a Williamson County sheriff's deputy out there next to Texas 45 North, handing out tickets.

Isn't this entrapment?

I mean, you ask the public out to try out a FREE stretch of highway so that maybe they'll enjoy the experience and buy a toll tag. And the roads are so wide and expansive and vacant that you could safely drive 140 mph. So you goose it.

And the cops are handing out tickets?

My friend Bob "Daddy-O" Wade, who went along for the ride, said it reminded him of one of those sting operations where the police invite criminals to a hotel ballroom for a free prize. Then, instead of giving everybody a complimentary laptop, they cart them all off to jail. Surprise.

These toll roads could use some eye candy. They really could. Every once in a while you'll spot a hay bale or an old falling-down barn. Frankly, it would be a more interesting ride if people started hauling their trash out there and dumping it.

That's a joke. Don't haul your trash out there and dump it.

But it really would be better if these toll roads had something worth looking at on the side of them. You know, something fun like a barbecue joint, a large pile of used tires or maybe even a strip club.

John Kelso's column appears on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Contact him at 445-3606 or jkelso@statesman.com.

© 2006 Austin American-Statesman: www. statesman.com