Dan Casey of The Roanoke Times wants to charge tolls for those of us who use the Blue Ridge Parkway to get from Point A to Point B.
If you’re in a hurry and you need to get from Clearbrook in southern Roanoke County to the eastern county section of Bonsack, there is exactly one quick and hassle-free road you want to take: the Blue Ridge Parkway.
So many Roanoke-area drivers have happily discovered this nifty National Park Service shortcut that it’s often swarming with rush-hour motorists. Some wags already call it the "Wal-Mart Expressway."
Spend any weekday evening on that gorgeous blacktop ribbon and you’ll see what I mean. Long lines of hurrying-to-get-home commuters zip along at 50 to 60 mph or so, unimpeded by traffic lights, stop signs or typical traffic bottlenecks.
That’s one of the reasons it’s time to reconsider an idea floated but rebuffed in the past: tolls, or some sort of fee system, for parkway users who get a free ride now.
If you’re thinking, "That darn Casey is one of those infernal parkway bicyclists who doesn’t like all that traffic," you’re partly right.
But what you may not know is that all those motorists are helping to wear out that beautiful road much faster than the National Park Service’s repaving budget can handle.
As one who often uses the Parkway as an alternate route from home to Roanoke, my first thought is "wow, Casey must be smoking some of Floyd County’s primary cash crop." The last thing we need in these over-taxed times is yet another way to separate cash-strapped locals from their hard-earned bucks.
Park roads often serve as commuter routes. In the Washington area, the George Washington Parkway, the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and the roads that wind through the National Mall — all parts of the federal park system — serve as primary routes during rush hour. I used them often during our 23 yeas in the National Capital Region.
Yes, the Parkway is far, far behind in maintenance projects but the crumbling roads exist not so much because commuters are pounding the pavement into dust but because the feds diverted much of the Parkway’s budget to other areas — like the endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
You find potholes and cracked pavement on the Parkway on areas not used by commuter traffic. Try driving south of Meadows of Dan and the pavement will pound your fillings loose. The road there is in far worse shape than the stretch that runs from U.S. 220 to U.S. 460 in Roanoke County.
A major repaving and rehab project is underway on the stretch that runs down Bent Mountain but attention is needed elsewhere.
Perhaps the Parkway would be better served if elected representatives like Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA) spent more time getting the Parkway funds for maintenance instead of concentrating on funding monuments to themselves like the Blue Ridge Music and Rockey Knob Visitor’s centers.
Perhaps those of us who drive the Parkway would be better served if the political appointees who run the Parkway would budget funds for upkeep instead of using limited resources to create Gestapo-like "criminal interdiction teams" to harass users of the region’s primary tourist attraction.
(Edited on March 28, 2009)