Give M-TAG a fair chanceAs executive secretary of the...

SATURDAY MAILBOX

June 05, 1999

Give M-TAG a fair chance

As executive secretary of the Maryland Transportation Authority, the agency that oversees Maryland's seven toll facilities, I would like to respond to Gregory Williams' letter to the editor regarding the state's new M-TAG electronic toll-collection system (M-TAG system broke what didn't need fixing," May 20).

Mr. Williams is correct that the transition and testing phases of the new program have caused some additional delays at the toll plazas. The temporary delays have started to subside since April 21 as the first commuters began to use the M-TAG system in staffed toll lanes at the Baltimore-area plazas.

On May 24, Gov. Parris N. Glendening announced the opening of M-TAG dedicated lanes at the Fort McHenry and Baltimore Harbor tunnels and the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

The opening of these dedicated lanes which, for the first time in Maryland history, allow customers to proceed through the toll plaza without stopping, will begin to showcase the true value of the M-TAG system.

As more of our 60,000 to 70,000 daily commuters switch from commuter tickets to M-TAG, and we are able to open additional dedicated M-TAG lanes, customers should experience a noticeable time savings during rush hours.

The benefits of M-TAG are numerous. Not only will it save time and enhance convenience for our commuters, it will also reduce overall congestion at the toll plazas and minimize delays for other toll users.

The reduction in traffic congestion and engine-idling time will lead to improved air quality.

Additionally, as part of the E-Z pass InterAgency Group of Northeast Toll Authorities, the Transportation Authority is working to develop a seamless system of electronic toll collection throughout the Northeast.

Once this complex system is in place, our M-TAG customers will be able to travel all the way to Massachusetts and pay the out-of-state tolls electronically using their M-TAG transponders.

Experience in other states has shown that implementing electronic toll collection requires an initial learning period on the part of customers and employees. After this brief transition period, the vast majority of customers overwhelmingly favor the technology.

On behalf of Governor Glendening, Transportation Authority Chairman John D. Porcari and the six citizen members of the Maryland Transportation Authority, I thank our daily commuters, as well as other users of our facilities, for their ongoing patience as our personnel and customers alike become accustomed to the new system.

We believe the public will soon agree that M-TAG has indeed decreased congestion, improved convenience and enhanced air quality at Baltimore's three harbor-crossing facilities.

Thomas L. Osborne, Baltimore

Art in the 20th century eludes simple distinctions

In an otherwise perceptive article ("Art that expresses an age," May 25), Glenn McNatt overlooks the fact that Walter Benjamin's distinction between art mechanically reproduced and more traditional forms, such as painting and sculpture, had little to do with the distinctions we make between good and bad, lasting art or mere entertainment.

As art, ultimately no inherent distinction exists between "Star Wars" and Picasso's "Guernica" -- although the former is merely an entertaining, if immensely popular, film while the latter is a great painting.

Yet both are well-known to the public -- as the reproduction of "Guernica" The Sun ran with Mr. McNatt's article suggests.

The distinction between popular and great art is difficult in a century whose most advanced thinking both in science and art is not generally accessible to most people.

How many people really understand Cubism or, for that matter, Jackson Pollock any better than they do Einstein's Theory of Relativity?

So it's truly rare when a great work of modern art such as the film "Casablanca" bridges the gap and becomes both popular and accessible at the same time. This is, not least, I think, because that film deals with the heroism inherent in all of us.

Yet how many realize that "Barry Lyndon," Stanley Kubrick's decidedly unheroic excursion into the past, is a much finer picture than "Gone With the Wind," a glorified soap opera that expresses little more than the need of a troubled and sentimental age to keep its head buried in the sand?

Like Mr. McNatt, I'd be hard-pressed to argue that art and sculpture or great literature such as James Joyce's "Ulysses" or William Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury" are any less quintessential to the 20th century than art forms which depend on modern technology for their existence.

Yet, as we have become so inured to the intrusion of techniques of mass persuasion into our daily lives that we now entrust them with much of our political discourse, it is important that we recall Benjamin's famous dictum that "propaganda is the lubricant of totalitarianism."

Jack Eisenberg, Baltimore

Running down Smart Growth

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