Friday, November 8, 2013

Flagwaver’s mission: Beyond Arlington

The Wreaths Across America project is one we’ve covered for several years. We have a number of OOIDA members who drive the trucks that move all those wreaths and some who are members of the Patriot Guard Riders who escort the trucks. OOIDA sponsors wreaths each year.

Last year, I attended a wreath-laying ceremony planned for the Missouri State Veterans Cemetery, 55 acres located north of Higginsville, Mo. The box of greenery sent to this Higginsville location contained seven balsam wreaths with red ribbons, made by the Worcester Wreath Co. in Harrington, Maine. The ceremony was smartly conducted by the American Legion, with assistance of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution.

We only got a box of seven wreaths that day and they were solemnly dedicated to the fallen members of the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, Marine Corps, Merchant Marines and to the more than 93,000 MIAs and POWs.

Still, as I stood there with wind whipping, I thought how that cold, quiet place might look and feel if all of the other plain white headstones had those red-ribboned balsam wreaths, too.

For that reason, I can relate to a project that one of our OOIDA members has committed to this year – placing a wreath on every veteran’s resting place in a cemetery south of his hometown. That’s what Mike Frybarger is hoping to do for the Floral Grove Cemetery near West Unity, Ohio.

Mike, aka “Flagwaver,” is a life member of OOIDA. He drives for Craig Transportation out of Perrysburg, Ohio. In 2012, the company was among the volunteers who donated a truck to pick up the wreaths in Maine and take them to Arlington. Flagwaver was proud to participate last year. It wasn’t the first time he’d been to Arlington though. The first time was in 2007 and the impression will never leave him.

He couldn’t help but think that the wreaths that covered all those stark tombstones at Arlington should be a nationwide effort. This year, he’s starting with Floral Grove Cemetery.

He says there are 347 veterans who are resting there for eternity, many of them he remembers. When I talked to Flagwaver on the Friday before Veterans’ Day, he had 187 wreaths reserved for Floral Grove and he was freshly jazzed about this morning’s donation of 34 wreaths from the local antique power club.

“Even if I don’t make my goal of 347, I think I have started a good thing and that it will catch on,” he said. “And next year get even better.”

Wreaths need to be sponsored by Dec. 2, 2013.

The national goal is 500,000 balsam wreaths. Last year, more than 450,000 wreaths were placed at hundreds of locations at Arlington, as well as veterans’ cemeteries and other locations in all 50 states, ceremonies at sea, and 24 national cemeteries on foreign soil.  

Mike says all over the world, the wreaths are laid at the same time, which is noon, Saturday, Dec. 14, and it’s an incredible feeling to be part of it.

“It’s not like any Memorial Day or Veterans’ Day because there’s more of a personal connection,” says Mike. “When someone takes that wreath and has it in their hand, we ask them to look at the tag on the wreath. There will be name on that tag and we encourage our volunteers to research that name, find out a bit about the person we are honoring. We don’t just leave the ceremony and go home. We make a more lasting connection, we remember, and honor.”

To help Mike reach his goal, you can do it through Wreaths Across America (they’ve created a web page for that specific location) or you can email him at

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Someone needs to take away Maryland’s crystal ball

To my knowledge, it’s still impossible to predict the future with any certainty. I mean, very few people have crystal balls, at least ones that work.

So when it comes to predicting traffic patterns and toll revenue, let’s just say it’s a far-from-perfect science. Consultants can study other roadways, current traffic counts, and maybe pick out some trends to watch. But even then, what they come up with is merely a projection.

Let’s take a look at the goings-on in Maryland, where truckers are still reeling from a series of sharp toll increases that began in 2009 on I-95 and at other facilities run by the Maryland Transportation Authority.

The $30 toll on I-95 north of Baltimore is now $48, while the $15 toll on the Preston (Bay) Bridge and the Nice Memorial Bridge on U.S. 301 also jumped to $48. Truckers fought hard against those increases, but they happened.

Now, the transportation authority – the same one that increased those tolls despite an onslaught of public outcry – is getting ready to open a new toll project, eight miles of managed toll lanes called the I-95 Express Toll Lanes, from the I-895 interchange to the north side of Maryland Route 43 in White Marsh.

Using its crystal ball, the authority projects the express lanes will save vehicles time and money by moving things along a little faster during periods of congestion. But how reliable are their projections?

A recent article by points out that the $1.1 billion expansion project will collect a paltry $10 million a year in tolls – hardly enough to even make the debt payments. So why is such a top-heavy project happening?

You have to go back to 2003, when the I-95 Express Toll Lanes were proposed. That’s when the consultants came along and sold Maryland on the idea that I-95 would be unable to handle a projected 238,000 vehicles a day by the year 2020.

News for Maryland: The consultants no longer predict 238,000 vehicles per day on the interstate. In fact, that number was recently revised to 186,000 vehicles per day – a difference of 52,000 vehicles, or 22 percent. And the new lanes aren’t even built yet.

Nobody was counting on or predicting a recession, but that’s just what happened a few years ago, and it knocked a lot of traffic off the roads. These new lanes may have created some jobs, but that’s all we can really say about them. Like a lot of others who bet the farm on a toll road, this one is set up to be a failure.

And as for the overall toll picture in Maryland, I am predicting their premium prices are going to continue to drive traffic off the roads. But I could be wrong. I don’t have a crystal ball.