Category Archives: Driving

Overpriced Toll Roads Going Bankrupt?

KXAN.com

“The bankruptcy filing by Cintra should have no effect on travelers who use SH 130, the taxpayers or the State of Texas. Cintra assumed the risk to finance, build and operate the section of SH 130 south of US 183 to I-10,” wrote Texas Senator Kirk Watson, D-Austin, in a statement to KXAN News. “Traffic and revenue on that part of the road hasn’t reached projected levels and Cintra has taken the hit, not taxpayers. Use of that section will continue to grow and be there as drivers have more need of it.”

The most overpriced stretch of road in the country is the segment from Austin North to Georgetown. I use that stretch of road because it is faster, not because the price is reasonable. If Cintra can’t stay in business with those prices, then the state should come up with a way to do it themselves.

Also, the specific section of road in question, to Seguin South of Austin, isn’t tolled at all. Not tolled and three lanes of clear asphalt both directions to and from I-10. Best drive to be had in Texas these days, so get your driving gear on and have a great day tooling through remote sections of Texas as if they need six-lane highways there. Do it before maintenance failure destroys the smooth surface and requires you to reduce your speed below 85 miles an hour in order to reduce wear and tear on your suspension.

Facebook Status update backdated to the blog. 

Blizzard 2016

Tiny snowflakes fell like radioactive jewels. The streets were deserted. Electric lights were few. Cars were abandoned alongside the road. As I crossed the Beltway, I could see hungry zombies roaming the empty streets below.  

I was followed briefly by a State Trooper, but when he saw my Alaska plates he waved me on with a brave thumbs up. Godspeed, Northman!  

Andrews AFB was dark, the great warbirds frozen in rigor mortis on the ramps beneath a load of snow at least an 1/8th of an inch thick. 

– Jim Wright, Stonekettle Station

Watching Weather Channel coverage of winter storm Jonas today, myself.  Like Jim, I am amused by the panic that most people seem to be swallowed by when the weather becomes less than optimal outside.  He posted this video of Jimmy Buffett’s tribute to enduring cold weather as an afterthought;

Living in Austin for the last twenty years, I have learned to be cautious when the weather is anything other than warm and sunny. If it rains here I stay home. If it ices here, I stay home. These people are nuts on ice and water. If it clouds over and starts to rain, Austinites slide off the roads by the hundreds. Blows my mind.

There was a common joke that circulated back in the years I lived in San Angelo. “There are only three things in West Texas that can kill you; the weather, the animals, and West Texans on ice.” I remember riding shotgun in a friend’s car during a pretty impressive snowstorm, traveling back to Sweetwater from the TSTC campus that was just outside of town. The snow was packed across the road, with drifts on the sides of the road. This journey sticks in my mind because it had never occurred to me that some people did not know how to drive on slick surfaces before. I looked over at the speedometer and noticed he was doing 50+ on snow, no snow tires, chains, etc. I commented that he might want to slow down since it was slick. He applied some brakes (never apply brakes on slick surfaces) the car started to spin gently sideways. Brakes applied in full locked mode, we continued to spin until we were traveling backwards down the highway at 50 miles an hour. luckily we hit a snowbank and stopped before hitting anything else.  We did make it to our destination, eventually.

I grew up in Kansas, learned to drive in Kansas. In Kansas the snow starts falling in September and continues falling off and on until April. We had blizzards in Kansas like the one currently hitting the Eastern coast pretty much every year.  Somewhere around this house I have pictures of the Wichita County High School in the 50’s, snow drifts up to the second floor of the school. Learning to drive in Kansas involved driving in snow and ice conditions, pretty much constantly.  Following a snowplow through rural Kansas in order to get to a city with a commercial center was a pretty common occurrence.  I tell you all this so that it is clear, I’ve seen snow. I’ve driven in snow.

Sitting in traffic in my brand new car, small child strapped into the car seat behind me, I have watched while the vehicles around me literally bowl over other cars already visibly stuck on an icy overpass. Watched while people attempt to escape their cars on the bridge, only to slide headlong under the car because the surface is that slick.  That day I waited patiently for traffic to clear, idling my way home on back roads as soon as I could get away from the demolition derby that was occurring on the freeway. That is Austin when there is the slightest amount of precipitation on the roadways, much less when there is an actual freeze.

Snowman from the blizzard of 2010

There are times when I will venture forth in inclement weather here.  Specific events that I know will keep most people off the roads.  We had a snowstorm that actually stuck to the ground in Austin back in 1994ish. There was snow all over the roads across the city. With the snow visible I knew that most of Austin would roll back over and go to sleep, so it was probably safe for me to venture out and enjoy a relaxed drive to work for a change.

It was the most pleasant commute of my working life. The city was abandoned, as far as I could tell. Not a vehicle to be seen on the freeways, the side roads, anywhere. I just sipped my coffee and idled the 3 or 4 miles to work. The most troubling part of the trip was the steep downhill on 19th street to the Lamar Blvd. intersection. Knowing there would be no stopping on that hill, I just kept it in first gear and let gravity do all the work.  I did see several vehicles abandoned on the uphill side of the road (poor souls, I thought) then I turned right onto Lamar and idled into the office parking garage.

I got more work done in the 6 hours it took for the snow to melt and the rest of Austin to make it out to work than I probably did the rest of that week. The rest of the office marveled at the daring exhibited by venturing out on snowy roads. “How did you do it?” they asked. “Just another day’s commute where I grew up” I replied. Didn’t even have to follow a snowplow, so it was easy.

Distracted Driving

Another rant inspired by Jeff Ward and Our Little Show. I can’t find any information on this subject other than the news story on KLBJ AM’s website, but I’m betting that this issue is being discussed, along with the issue of red light cameras

[go here to voice your opposition to that issue. Red light cameras actually cause accidents because of their effect on traffic, and because the governments that install them also shorten yellow light times so as to make more money from the cameras. It’s all about cash flow]

both of which are favored by a number of Austin City council members (Congresscritters in training is what they really are) neither of which are good ideas. Don’t take my word for it, check out what AAA has to say about the dangers of driving distracted. Sure, I’ve nearly been run over by people on cell phones (more than once) I’ve also been nearly run over by people arguing with children, spilling coffee, doing their makeup, shaving, you name it.

When I have been run over (I think the total is about 6 wrecks now, none of which my insurance had to pay for) it’s always been by someone who was distracted by a passenger in the car. Maybe we should limit vehicle capacity to one person. That should cut down on the number of accidents.

But the thing that really chaps my hide is this driving need on the part of politicians to pass a new law that essentially duplicates parts of laws already on the books. If a policeman feels you are unreasonably distracted by your use of a cell phone, he can already pull you over and issue a ticket for reckless driving. So the new law does…?

Nothing but put more money into government coffers.

City Council contact info.

Car Trips; Travel

Heading out in about 5 hours to deliver the children to their grandparents for a few weeks of vacation (theirs or ours, it’s hard to guess) and I suddenly realize just how much I’ve come to hate sitting in a car.

I used to hunger for the freedom that a car represented; and when I finally got my drivers license, you couldn’t get me out of the vehicle except to sleep. I’d plan trips like the impending one to the nth degree, mapping out which way to go, picking just the right music; and I’d spend the day proceeding it cleaning every inch of the vehicle inside and out.

These days I don’t notice the car is dirty until I can’t see out the windows. I don’t even want to talk about sitting. Legs hurt, hips hurt, back hurts; and you just have to sit there. Music is secondary now, too. If we’re lucky, the wife and I will hit a good conversation rhythm, and we won’t even notice the radio is off.

I don’t drive by myself any more, maybe that’s what’s different. I doubt it, though. Given a choice, I’ll play the passenger rather than have to concentrate on driving for hours at a time.

Maybe car trips are like the other trips; drug trips specifically. At first it’s a mind blowing change, to be in control and able to do anything (at least in your own mind, which is where it counts when it comes to trippin’) and then as the number of trips piles up, they start turning into bad trips, and you wonder why you ever wanted to do that shit in the first place.

…Or maybe I just need to take up flying.


Made it back alive though. It’s always a wonder when that happens, even though it has happened every time.

Common Sense Alternatives

It’s my curse to see them, and then spend my time arguing with complete buffoons about them.

Like the smoking argument, the solution the the drinking and driving problem isn’t less alcohol consumption, or more expensive drinks; just as the solution to problems with second hand smoke isn’t keeping people from smoking. It’s architectural; or in this case, a zoning issue. If it was possible to set up neighborhood pubs or sidewalk cafes as they do in other places, it wouldn’t be necessary to drive down to the pub to get a pint, or to the cafe to get a taste. You could walk there.

De-stressing the forbidden nature of alcohol would go along way in stopping teenage drinking as well.

But I don’t expect anyone will listen to this argument any more than they have to the other ones I’ve offered.