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Have you driven on a Maine road lately? Did your car survive the experience? Never mind your car, how about you? Are your dental fillings still in place?
After a particularly jarring trip to town the other day I was reminded of the "Weekly Reader" we used to get in school when I was a kid. Each week this magazine had a section about what things would be like in the future when we all grew up. Well, it's the future and I'm grown up and one thing they predicted isn't even close to getting here.
One week they had an article about “roads of the future.” It said scientists somewhere were predicting that in the future (like, now) we'd all ride around on velvety “electronic” roads and our cars would be able to glide along on these high-tech ribbons –“auto-matically.”
Next to the incredible story was an artist's idea of the typical family of the future wearing clothes of the future, of course, while sitting in a sleek car that looked like it was speeding along a beautiful, high-speed highway with no one at the wheel. There was not a moose or a pothole-filling road crew in sight.
Considering all the arguing I hear among neighbors every time the town wants to buy a piece of used road equipment, I wondered how our town roads would ever be prepared to accommodate those fancy cars of the future.
Returning home after surviving another shaky road trip I went online and Googled “roads of the future” just to see what I’d find. To my surprise I found an article saying that the nation's first electronic, automated highway was up and running. For me, it was deja vu all over again.
According to the story – which seems as implausible now as it did years ago in my “Weekly Reader” – test vehicles equipped with video cameras, magnets and radar are now able to navigate quite nicely up and down the nation's first 7.6 miles of automated highway, which soon be lengthened to over 10 miles. (The location of this marvel was undisclosed, so don’t get any ideas about going for a test drive on it yourself.)
The story also said that "tiny magnets embedded on the asphalt on either side of traffic lanes at four-foot intervals enabled the magnetized vehicles to constantly “orient” themselves within the lanes boundaries." Right.
The article never mentioned the “Weekly Reader” piece from the ‘50s, but said the genesis was a 1991 federal law that empowered the Transportation Department to develop "fully automated, intelligent vehicle highway systems." I guess they've given up trying to develop intelligent drivers and think it's a better idea to develop intelligent highways, instead.
Call me old fashioned, but as bad as our roads are today, I'm just not ready to turn my car over to a computer under my dashboard. I have enough trouble these days dealing with ATMs and voice mail – neither of which are moving along at 60 mph.
No, I'd sooner trust the guys in our town's road crew to design me a "fully automated, intelligent vehicle highway system," before I'd trust the transportation gang down in Washington to design me one.
First, I know that if our town's road crew was ever given the task of designing and installing such a system, I'd be long gone before they ever got around to installing it; and second, on the off-chance they ever DID install it, at least here in town folks could complain to selectmen if things on the high-tech, futuristic road didn't go right.
How are townspeople going to argue with a bunch of transportation bureaucrats in Washington? By digital voicemail?
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is mainestoryteller@yahoo.com.
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