Pop quiz: What was Dallas Morning News personal finance columnist Scott Burns referring to when, in a July 1989 column, he described "a project that may give Dallas, particularly downtown Dallas, a better future" and a symbol of "what we need to be the city we want to be in the 21st century. " Was it the acquisition of right-of-way for DART's planned rail line? Jerry Jones' acquisition of the Dallas Cowboys and, later, of boyishly handsome UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman? The premiere of TV show Dallas' penultimate 13th season?
Wrong. Burns was talking about the debut of TollTag.
Yes, there was a time when people were excited by the idea of TollTags. Suddenly, drivers could imagine a future in which cars wouldn't be backed up five and six deep at toll booths, in which their cars wouldn't need to be overflowing with change, where a trip down the Dallas North Tollway would become as seamless and trouble-free as a walk in the park. Congestion and air pollution would take a hit. And finally, Dallas was finally first at something: The TollTag was the first automated toll-payment system in the country.
Twenty-five years later, people are still just as excited about the TollTag. Which people, you wonder? The people who work at the North Texas Tollway Authority.
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On Thursday, the NTTA will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the now ubiquitous technology at its headquarters in Plano. The guests of honor: the 25 longest-standing TollTag customers.
The thrilling itinerary, which includes "[p]laque honoring 25 longest-standing TollTag customers"; "NTTA Chairman Kenneth Barr honoring customers with plaque"; and "Original model TollTag, current TollTag, Dallas Cowboys TollTag, TCU TollTag, SMU TollTag," kicks off at noon.
Thursday will also, by happenstance, mark the three-day anniversary of the revelation that 41,000 TollTag customers were mistakenly charged during a toll holiday on the newly opened DFW Connector, the 14-month anniversary of the NTTA being granted the authority to block car registrations and impound cars and the one-second anniversary of some poor schmuck getting stuck in the NTTA phone tree for the zillionth time. It also coincides with a regional transportation network that increasingly -- and frustratingly -- relies on tolls.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.