Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Keep an Eye on Big Brother's Plan for Whom the Beltway Tolls

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Keep an Eye on Big Brother's Plan for Whom the Beltway Tolls

Article excerpt

Byline: kevin clark

Despite a strong desire to keep my personal information under wraps, I have a nasty habit of giving out my phone number to complete strangers.

It happened again last weekend. I was in Toys 'R' Us buying a birthday present for my nephew while also playing tug-of-war with my 4-year-old son, who grappled just about every expensive piece of plastic in the place. The first question from the smiling clerk at the checkout counter was not the expected, "Did you find everything OK?" No, her first question was, "Can I have your phone number, please?"

I've heard this line so many times at store checkout counters that it appears I've become a trained seal barking out the answer out of habit. Either that, or I'm now the hottest catch in Northeast Florida. People Magazine hasn't called, however, and when I mentioned this notion to my wife she responded with convulsions of laughter.

I'd say a more likely reason is Big Brother, the legendary fictional stalker George Orwell personified in his book, 1984. Whether it's a computer program recording what Web sites we visit, or a smiling clerk soliciting our phone number, the guy is definitely watching us.

We quickly learn his stalking is not simply because he's curious about our habits. Sure, at times he may parade statistics and shout alarms about terrorist plots to make his spying seem reasonable, but in the end Big Brother wants only one thing: To put his finger on our wallets.

I'm on to his latest scheme thanks to a couple of recent Times-Union stories, which tell me Big Brother has his hands in the ever-important Outer Beltway and the new bridge across the St. Johns River.

The initial planning of this herculean project has seemed like a root canal - you don't want to go through it but it's best to just take your shot and get it done. Study followed by discussion followed by closed-door meetings and then public comment led the Florida Department of Transportation to determine where the new bridge was going - by the current Shands Bridge. This option had support and seemed logical because, among other things, it impacts the fewest number of million-dollar, riverfront homes.

Paying for it, however, remained a mystery until recently.

To avoid earmarking a gazillion dollars it doesn't have and likely won't in our lifetime, FDOT has all but decided to pay for the Outer Beltway through tolls. But there's a catch: no standard toll booths.

Instead, those of us who want to use the new bridge will have to purchase a transponder, which as we're driving full speed past a certain checkpoint will send a signal to automatically debit an account in our name. The idea is meant to avoid the occasional toll plaza traffic backup one sees in other Florida cities.

But what if you don't purchase the transponder? …

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