It may have started as an April Fool’s Day prank, but no one at the Arizona Department of Transportation is laughing now. Arizona DOT officials participated in a radio prank even after receiving e-mails that high-ranking aides in the governor’s office were opposed to the stunt.
Throughout the morning on April 1, local news and talk radio station KTAR-AM reported on the air and on its Web site that the state had passed emergency legislation requiring that tolls be collected on freeways to raise money for Arizona’s billion-dollar budget shortfall.
According to the fabricated news story, toll amounts would be tied to freeway numbers. For example, drivers would have to pay $1.01 on the Loop 101; they would need to fork over 51 cents to drive on State Route 51.”
The Arizona Republic reported that hundreds of listeners called the station and the governor’s office to express their outrage over the story. KTAR officials said 320 listeners left messages on a special hotline that had been set up for the stunt, shutting down the station’s phone system.
Arizona DOT’s involvement was serious enough that its director, Victor Mendez, apologized to Gov. Janet Napolitano for his department collaborating with KTAR on a fake news story about toll roads. And the state is threatening to bill the station for the costs incurred dealing with the fallout from the fictitious report.