i always take the toll road

Hello, everyone! This semester (Jan 2021 - Apr 2021 which is now) has been the most time-intensive stretch in my whole MDiv journey, and one of the more crunched times across my adult life. Which is why I haven't blogged since Dec 2020... I haven't had enough spare brain cells to make sentences out of whimsy — only as work-product. I don't begrudge this! and also I'm glad this semester is (nearly) over. In fact, two of my courses have already completed — which is why I'm here today, yay! 
The below post I've been 'writing' since February (!).

I had another internship this semester — wonderful, fruitful, learned a lot — with a non-profit hospice organization in town. Their formal offices are almost 15 miles from my house; my internship supervisor’s service area is centered about 20 miles from my house. So after scarcely driving anywhere from last March to December (see: pandemic), I started zipping up the highway again.

My usual artery is colloquially called Mopac, for the railroad that controls the tracks that run up the middle for much of its length. A few (three? two? five?) years ago our various transportation authorities finished a pair of extra-limited-access lanes, one northbound and one southbound, so that folk who commute from one end of the city to the other might possibly spend less time en route. Express lanes, in fact. That are tolled roads. Boo hiss.

To be fair, there’s a bit of cleverness embedded in this particular tolling — in order to keep the express lanes flowing expressly, the greater number of cars that roll into them, the higher the toll climbs. The idea is that drivers will look at the pricing — I’ve seen $4 for halfway across town — scoff, and stick to the usual (free) lanes. At the outset I’m not sure this was happening, based on the number of rants I heard from people about the sums of money they were paying in tolls, but I hope folks have figured that part out now.

Anyway. I’m more gruntled about these tolls than others, since they serve multiple social purposes. Mostly I am… well… pastorally annoyed by toll roads, perhaps because here most infrastructure choices are made in a libertarian way: in Texas we have to pay-upon-use for our public goods if “everybody” doesn’t use/want them.

Which brings me to an interesting split between me and My Sweetie. My Sweetie does not take toll roads, as a rule. When we were in our early years together, I remember being startled by how vehement he was… we were in Houston, and I was thinking it would be much faster to jump on one of tolled loops — and NO. He didn’t like pitching coins into the basket,* he didn’t want to hand over money when there were perfectly acceptable roads, what was I talking about. Oh, okay.

And yet.
When I’m driving up (or back on!) Mopac far enough, I jump on those express lanes. Not when they’re billing more than $2 a segment, because I know they don’t want me at that point. But all the other times? I’m there. Hurry, no hurry, don’t care: I’m on the toll road.

I happen to live in a state that doesn’t affirm that collectively caring for our communities is a Good Thing. Where it sometimes feels like paddling backwards through rapids to, say, balance concern for people who are unhoused with worry about ancillary chaos that can happen in the wake of improvised housing. Yet this doesn’t stop me from seeing potential collective goods. Or wanting to support any fledgling shared goods that might be sprouting.

I think it’s terrible that we have a means-test for our city’s speediest routes between north and south. I wish we didn’t. Still, I have means. And if I regularly give some of my means to the tolling authority, they’ll be less likely to raise rates — they have costs to recoup; money to tunnel through Central Texas bedrock doesn’t grow on trees. If the tolling authority doesn’t raise rates, the roads are a leeetle easier to access for greater numbers of people: collective good.

So I’m always taking the toll road.

* This “pitching money” distaste, in fact, was/is non-trivial for My Sweetie. Now that Texas has gone to a system of proximity sensors (“toll tags”) rather than cash collection for tolling, I don’t hear nearly as much anti-toll speech.

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