Lane Closure Exposure

New Jersey traffic retribution scandal tough for Houstonians to understand.

 Highlights from Hair Balls


If you've never been to the Northeast, particularly if you've never driven on their highways, it is probably tough for you to understand the scandal facing Governor Chris Christie and his staff right now in New Jersey. How could a pair of lane closures be that significant of a problem that it would represent a form of political retribution?

Imagine fighting for your political life over this.
Photo by TexasDarkHorse via Flickr
Imagine fighting for your political life over this.

A little background first. Christie, the popular and bombastic Republican governor of largely Democratic New Jersey, is widely considered to be a possible GOP candidate for President in the next election. He's ruffled feathers on both sides of the political aisle, but the people of the Garden State seem to love him. Most important, it was thought he was a guy who didn't really do political scandal. He might disagree, but he'd do so publicly.

But when the Associated Press dug up emails sent by a top Christie aide suggesting closing down a couple of lanes of freeway as payback for the mayor of Fort Lee not backing Christie for re-election, that perception rapidly changed. Now, on to the traffic problem.

Here in Houston, we have an abundance of highways and options for getting around traffic. For any given location, there are probably ten different routes that will get us there. It's why traffic is almost never a problem for Astros and Rockets games — there are so many ways in and out of downtown.

Sure, traffic during rush hour is tough, with so many people trying to either get into or leave business areas like downtown, the Galleria or the Medical Center. But imagine if there were just one business center and only a single point of access to it. Consider what would happen if the entire population of Houston lived in The Woodlands and the only access road into downtown Houston was Interstate 45. That's the problem facing New Jersey.

With the state's proximity to New York City, there are thousands of people who must pass every day through a choked artery to get to the George Washington Bridge. To make matters more complicated, virtually every road in the area is part of the New Jersey Turnpike, which is a toll road — every time I drive through that state, I am reminded how much it costs just to drive your car there.

A few years ago, I drove a car into Manhattan at 5 or 6 p.m. on a Friday evening through the Lincoln Tunnel. At the entrance of the tunnel, something like 50 lanes converged into about four (it was probably more like 12 down to six, but you get the idea). Just getting into the tunnel took probably 20 minutes. Everywhere at almost every time in and around New York City, it's the same. It's like the West Loop, only angrier and making less sense.

So the next time you're cursing our traffic and considering taking an alternate route, imagine that, in New Jersey, the closing of two lanes of traffic is so bad, it represents a scandal that could have widespread political ramifications for the governor's office. Our traffic blows, but it's not normally scandal-worthy.


On Hold
Obamacare is moving along, but one guy says he's paying for insurance he's not getting.

Dianna Wray

Texas Blue Cross Blue Shield has lovely hold music. Just ask Fred Rhodes. He and his wife have taken turns listening to it since they found out that, despite having enrolled and paid for their new health insurance in December, they still aren't in the system.

With the advent of the Affordable Care Act, Rhodes — a Houston lawyer who runs an independent practice and thus has to buy health insurance — went on and signed up for a plan on December 21. He paid the premium on December 27 and got new insurance cards for himself and his wife right around the first of the year, he said.

Then his wife tried to get a flu shot at a Randalls pharmacy two weeks ago and was told by the pharmacist she wasn't showing up in the Blue Cross Blue Shield system. Rhodes tried to fill a prescription last week at a different pharmacy and was told the same thing. "I thought I knew how to do this, but obviously I was wrong," he said.

Fun fact: After you've been on hold for three hours, Blue Cross Blue Shield's automated system will hang up on you, according to Rhodes. We were curious about the holding experience, and on January 8 tried the same customer service line Rhodes has been using.

Jaunty yet soothing guitar music let us know we were still on hold after we were advised that the estimated wait time to speak to a real person was "in excess of 60 minutes." The automated-voice non-person informed us that Blue Cross Blue Shield is working to implement the new regulations of the Affordable Care Act as quickly as possible. The automated system might have then asked us to have patience, but we could have just been telling ourselves that to keep from throwing the phone across the room.

The automated system told us in tranquilizing tones that we could always email Blue Cross Blue Shield with our queries and the email would be answered within five business days. However, Rhodes told us he had already sent three emails in the past two weeks without receiving a reply or any acknowledgement.

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Excuse me, Jeff Balke? What is hard to understand about the NJ "traffic retribution scandal"???

First of all, most Houstonians are obviously "smarter than you". Second, anyone paying attention to the news, or having had watched an episode of "Law and Order", or the Sopranos, would have gotten the gist of it, by now. I've been to NJ. I've driven to NYC. I know more than you.

Aaron Coleman

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