Sunday, April 27, 2003

$7.5 million toilets

A costly restroom break


Let's see. How can I put this delicately? It's about toilets. And waste.

So, of course, it stinks.

Next time you are cruising Interstate 75 near the Ohio 63 interchange at Monroe, you can get an unimpeded view of a $7.5-million pit stop. Purchased with your money, it will open mid-May. "It will be state of the art and easily the most modern rest area in Ohio," according to John Burnie of the Ohio Department of Transportation.

That might have been exciting information 50 years ago, when families traveled long stretches of empty highway with children who - although they has been told to go before they left - would find themselves in sudden need of the facilities.

And the facilities were bleak indeed. You could smell them when you opened the car door. Most of us changed our minds, deciding we'd wait until we got to Grandma's. This was in the bad old days before the Golden Arches. Now you can get a Happy Meal and visit a nice, clean restroom with a full soap dispenser and a changing table for the little one. These facilities were built with somebody else's money, businesses which also pay taxes and provide jobs.

Free is a good price

Just minutes away from the rest stop's two impressive glass buildings squatting on either side of the highway are a dozen fast-food places. McDonald's opens at 5:30 a.m. and stays open until 11. There's a special lot for trucks and buses. White Castle is open 24 hours a day, with plenty of parking "even for the big rigs," I am assured. Stony Ridge Travel Center, also at Exit 29, also open all the time, offers gasoline, a buffet and about 250 parking spaces for trucks. "We don't charge anything for parking," says Kathy Elkins, manager. "If somebody wants to park and take a nap, that's fine."

So you have to wonder why the state Biggie Sized the old rest stop, from 11 parking spaces for trucks and 50 for cars to 24 truck and 65 car spaces. Originally, the plan was for a smaller, cheaper upgrade when they closed in September 2001. Not everybody wants to eat at a restaurant. So, a few picnic tables and a decent restroom would have been hospitable.

But ODOT officials say new traffic data show about 78,000 vehicles per day use the I-75 stretch through Butler County, making it the busiest in the state. The new rest stops will have electronic kiosks with travel information, security cameras and a round-the-clock caretaker. Kathy Elkins says Stony Ridge also has security, and she'd have let the state put a computer at her place for free. Which is a good price any time. But especially these days.

Ohioans will pay more to drive their trucks and cars with new increases in gas tax and fees for driver's licenses and vehicle registrations. Gov. Bob Taft says we're broke. And, by golly, you can't get blood from a turnip, although the people who spend our money are squeezing hard. They stand ready to be ruthless with poor children with bad teeth and old people with library cards. We appear to be low on funds for schools and food banks.

Meanwhile, we have built two new monuments to waste.

E-mail or phone 768-8393.

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