HIGHTOWER: Luxury Lanes for the Rich

There is an insidious and dangerous disuniting taking place inside our United States of America.Those at the top of our society are steadily separating themselves further and further from America's workaday majority. For example, while those making $100,000 or more have seen dramatic gains in their income over the past couple of decades, the 80-percent of us who make under $50,000 a year have either seen our incomes stagnate or drop.But those at the top are separating themselves from us physically, too. Their homes are in gated and guarded compounds, their kids attend exclusive schools and, even at sporting events, they sit in luxury boxes that separate the hoity toity from us hoi poloi.But now comes another divisive development: they don't even want to drive with us! Believe it or not, the Federal Highway Administration is providing a $14 million annual subsidy to create "luxury lanes" on commuter highways so the affluent can avoid rush-hour congestion. In Minneapolis, for example, privileged ones driving the stretch of I-394 that runs from the wealthy suburbs west of the city to the downtown office buildings can now pay about $1,000 a year and get a special pass that literally puts them in the fast lane.While those of us in the Old Chevrolet Class are bumper-to-bumper in a snarl of traffic, the Range Rover Rich go cruising by with a smug smile on their faces. Never mind that every lane of this $450-million highway was paid for by all taxpayers, the majority of us who cannot afford an extra thousand bucks for the luxury lane are rendered second-class citizens.This is Jim Hightower saying ... This bad idea is spreading, with Houston, Los Angeles, Portland, Westchester County and other cities providing privileged access to their public freeways. Aside from being an obvious target for "driver rage," luxury lanes also represent a dangerous trend for our democracy.Source:"Freeway's birthplace considers toll lanes" by Michael Fleeman. Associated Press: Dec. 6, 1997. "Sane lane' proposal is crazy, drivers say" by Wes Smith. Chicago Tribune: Oct. 14, 1997.

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