This Fourth of July was the 230th anniversary of our declaration of independence from George III and his minions, but we may never be free of the foolishness of bureaucrats -- at least not in the Chicago area.
Just south of Chicago, Interstate 80 goes in a more-or-less straight line across Illinois, from the Indiana border to Iowa. Westward from the Indiana state line for about seven miles, there is large upgrading construction project underway with new overpasses flying here and there. It makes Northern Virginia's "Mixing Bowl" look like child's play.
Last Saturday afternoon it required one hour and 30 minutes to go the length of the construction zone. While the evidence of construction is everywhere, no one was working that day and two lanes were open; no closures, no merges. The cause of the snarl was a State of Illinois toll plaza at the end of the construction zone which extracted all of 60 cents from each vehicle!
Traffic approaching the toll plaza from the west, where no construction was going on, stretched back three miles. If the weekend problem was this bad, imagine what must happen on weekdays.
Who is responsible for the thousands of lost citizen-hours and the thousands of gallons of wasted gasoline that evaporate into the air? The answer: Illinois bureaucrats, determined to collect their 60 cents. And who could have done something about this? Creative elected officials -- apparently in short supply. This is a federal highway, essential to the transportation of huge amounts of goods by truck, not to mention individuals on business and personal trips.
The Governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat, is up for reelection and his administration has other troubles on its hands. His Republican opponent should make sure the voters know this one should be added to the list.
What about Illinois' two U.S. Senators? Barack Obama is busy auditioning for President and Dick Durbin is busy playing attack dog against any and every Republican initiative on the Senate floor. With a little creative thinking, they could relieve the congestion, the lost time of thousands of citizens and help the clean air movement at the same time. This being a federal highway, the funds paying for the upgrade doubtless come from the U.S. Treasury.
The senators, perhaps joining forces with House Speaker Dennis Hastert, from a nearby Illinois county, could get the Federal Highway Administration to use some of those funds to reimburse the state for lost tolls, in exchange for it closing the toll plaza during the several-month construction period.
What would happen to the toll takers until October, when the current madness is scheduled to end? A long holiday would cost the taxpayers less than this mess. Those toddlin' tollsters could spend the time sampling the delights of the nation's Second -- err -- Third city.
Messes of this type are not restricted to Chicago and its suburbs. They happen in many places, all stemming from the same mindset. The contractors are concerned only with construction; the bureaucrats are concerned only with keeping their toll-revenue stream continuing uninterrupted; and no one -- least of all the elected officials who should care -- pays any attention to the interests of the citizens.
While the politicians carve out wasteful "pork" earmarks, in real time their constituents are often ignored. Perhaps this November, some of the constituents will engage in payback.
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