ROADS REPORT: Tax dollars hard at work

NASCAR sponsorships and lengthy legal battles over pasta strainers are the real bridge to nowhere

Blog Entry April 01, 2013

David Matthews has been chronicling the unexpectedly humorous side of transportation news for his Roads Report column since 2000. The stories are all true.

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Promoting safety at 200 mph
Did you see the Florida Department of Transportation’s safety promotion on driver Joe Nemechek’s car during the Daytona 500? No?

Perhaps it was because Nemechek finished in 18th place. Or maybe you were distracted by the huge crash that injured 28 fans in the grandstand. Or maybe it was all that beer.

Well that’s too bad because the Florida DOT spent $174,500 in federal highway taxpayer money to sponsor Nemechek—a Lakeland, Fla., native who currently holds the second most career last-place finishes in NASCAR—and decorate the hood of his Toyota Camry stock car with a red emblem reading “Alert today, Alive tomorrow.”

It’s all part of the state’s new campaign promoting roadway safety—a worthy initiative in a state plagued with twice the pedestrian deaths than the national average.
Still, some wonder if this was the best use of public funds.

“It’s so stupid,” said State Rep. Mike Fasano, who served as chair of the Florida Senate’s transportation appropriations committee from 2004 to 2010. “I don’t see how spending $174,500 at the Daytona 500 will do anything to promote auto safety. No one in attendance will take any notice of this message.”

If nothing else, there’s something ironic about promoting roadway safety on a car traveling nearly 200 mph.

Ivy League mobile homes
In the market for a new home? Princeton University has seven that you can have for free—you just need a place to put them.

The university plans to remove the homes in preparation for the construction of a $300 million Arts & Transit neighborhood.

But rather than just call in the wrecking ball and demolish the buildings, they are offering them for free to anyone with a dream and a house-size dolly system.

The homes are in need of some fixing before they will be safe to move into, but then again after four years of Princeton tuition, those are the conditions you’ll be living in anyway.

Your Noodle-given rights
A battle over religious liberty and expression erupted at a New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) office when employees exhibited startling intolerance toward 25-year-old Aaron Williams’s religious head covering.

When Williams, a devout Pastafarian, visited the MVC office in February to renew his drivers license, he was told that he could not wear the pasta strainer on his head in his license photo.

Police eventually had to be called in after Williams refused to comply, explaining that “his pasta strainer was a religious head covering and it was his right to wear it for his license photo,” according to the police report.

As a Pastafarian, Williams is a member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a tongue-in-cheek organization founded in part to protest the teaching of creationism in schools.

Williams explained to the South Brunswick Patch that, “As a Pastafarian, I believe the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. The strainer is a showing of my devoutness to the religion.”

After speaking with officers, Williams eventually agreed to take his photo without the strainer.

However he is now considering an appeal to the state to have pasta strainers classified as approved head coverings. Sounds like long odds, but in 2011 a Pastafarian in Australia won a three-year battle to have his headgear recognized by the government.

It’s like the good book states, “I can do all things through the Flying Spaghetti Monster who strengthens me. R’amen.” R&B

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