Welcome to another edition of Boos and Bravos, where we try to criticize and praise in equal amounts:
• Bravo to the Maine Turnpike Authority’s plan to add a lane to both sides of the turnpike stretching from Scarborough to about a mile north of the Larrabee Road exit in Portland. Anyone who travels the roadway, especially during the evening commute or a busy weekend in the summer, has seen the uptick in traffic and realizes something needs to be done.
The turnpike authority has taken out a construction loan of $173 million to pay for the project, slated to begin sometime next year and last through 2022. A similar plan was considered 15 years ago, when the authority widened the portion of the turnpike south of Scarborough. But it was shelved because of the economic downturn.
Now that the economy is thriving again, traffic is increasing 3 percent a year and it’s high time the agency did something to deal with the resulting frustrations and dangers posed to drivers. Yes, it’ll cost a pretty penny, but it’s money well spent. Anything we can do to improve our infrastructure, especially to a road so vital to commuters and vacationers, is a wise investment.
• On a similar topic, boo to the awful traffic jams that plague the lowly daily commuters into and out of Westbrook, Scarborough and Portland from western towns. If you’ve never driven Route 22, Route 114 or Route 25 through Gorham and Scarborough in the morning or around 5 p.m., you don’t know the meaning of traffic jam. It’s awful.
The problem is only going to get worse, considering all the housing projects underway. The former William Clarke farm off Spring Street in Westbrook is now a field of houses and apartment complexes, and seemingly set to sprawl farther with the impending development of the former Twin Falls golf course across the street. Another massive project is going up off Haigis Parkway in Scarborough. Greater Portland is growing by leaps and bounds, with no end in sight. All of these new dwellers will be drivers, so we need to make our roads bigger and better for them to use.
Commuters, bless ’em, remain remarkably patient and well-behaved as they sit helplessly in line, waiting for lights to turn green. Why there aren’t more lanes on these busy commuter links is a question better left to the Maine Department of Transportation and those who hold the purse strings.
I admire the Maine Turnpike Authority for addressing their own traffic issues. Now it’s time for other agencies and town governments (which keep approving massive housing projects) to get serious about their own traffic woes. Like the turnpike widening project, it’s money well spent.
It’s not like town governments are ignorant of the problem. Gorham has gained a reputation for installing traffic circles, but all these do is kick the can down the road to the next traffic light. Traffic circles in one town can only do so much. Get rid of the lights and add circles and more lanes along the entire commuting route. It’s time to do something drastic to get traffic flowing. We can’t subject commuters to this any longer.
• Boo to the general tone of conversation taking place in American politics. It all seems so dire and over-the-top. From Trump-focused book titles like Bob Woodward’s “Fear,” Marvin Kalb’s “Enemy of the People,” and Michael Wolfe’s “Fire and Fury,” to resisting Democrats and cable news networks trumping up every story like it’s the end of the world, it seems many in the media want to make real life into some sort of movie thriller.
Political reporting has become unreal, and Americans are tired of it. We can only take so much hyperbole. The media is like the boy who cried wolf. We’re not listening anymore. The media is incapable of reporting on anything without inflating its, and their own, importance.
Underlying all this hype and hyperbole is the media’s desire to delude themselves and us into believing their lives are as important and thrilling as what we see in the movies. Our news culture has slowly become one with celebrity culture, where exaggeration and “larger-than-life” rule the day.
I hope we can get back to the old days, when Walter Cronkite dispassionately delivered the day’s news without the hype and hyperbole of modern-day news productions. The media enjoys playing up a story, but Americans need to realize they’re the ones being played.
John Balentine, a former managing editor for Sun Media Group, lives in Windham.