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Mississippi lawmakers create lottery to fund highways

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JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi lawmakers created a lottery to fund highways, increased state transportation aid for cities and counties, and divided $700 million in oil spill damages during a five-day special session that wrapped up Wednesday.

The Legislature concluded the session with a 99-10 House vote in favor of Senate Bill 2002 , which sends 70 percent of economic damages being paid by BP PLC to Mississippi’s six southernmost counties. The measure also includes more than $100 million in earmarked projects for local areas.

Lawmakers earlier agreed to send 35 percent of the tax on internet sales to cities and counties for infrastructure, with Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signing that bill moments after lawmakers adjourned. They also agreed to create a lottery that will direct up to $80 million a year to the state Department of Transportation.

“Any one of those pieces of legislation would have been historic. Any one of those would have been monumental in helping move this great state forward,” Bryant said Wednesday as Democratic and Republican lawmakers joined him in the Capitol rotunda.

House Speaker Philip Gunn, a Republican from Clinton, declared: “The winners today are the citizens of the state of Mississippi.”

Bryant called the session last week as he declared the problems plaguing the state’s transportation infrastructure a crisis. He has been forced to close hundreds of county bridges.

Legislative leaders predict the bills passed during the session will inject more than $200 million a year into transportation on an ongoing basis. They also agreed to borrow $300 million, with $250 million going to an emergency bridge fund, which could help reopen some of the 435 local bridges closed as of Wednesday. However, the state Department of Transportation has said it needs another $400 million a year to keep the highway system from deteriorating, and the session’s action will only provide a fraction of that money.

“We passed three critically important bills,” Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, told senators as they adjourned.

On one of those, the tax diversion, Reeves largely agreed with a position that Gunn staked out during the regular session months ago. The lottery bill was pushed most heavily by Bryant, although lawmakers amended the original proposal after complaints that the proposed Mississippi Lottery Corp. would be overly secretive and powerful.

The House debate on the oil spill money was the final act of the session. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jeff Smith, a Republican from Columbus, announced leaders would turn back all amendments, a position they maintained despite efforts to divide the money among all counties based on population, or provide some money for the 19 counties that didn’t get any of the 128 special projects that made up most the bill.

Lawmakers have already spent $52.4 million of the $750 million BP is paying to make up for lost tax revenue from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Most of that money has been spent on coastal projects.

With about $100 million in the bank, legislators agreed to take another $60 million for earmarked projects in Senate Bill 2002, combining it with a $50 million pot from the borrowing they approved earlier. The six southernmost counties are in line to get 70 percent of the overall settlement, including about $27 million of what’s in the bank, plus $30 million from 15 yearly payments of $40 million, beginning in 2019.

The Mississippi Development Authority, advised by people appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker, will recommend grants from the coast money for lawmakers to approve each year. Lawmakers themselves will decide how to spend the remaining $10 million a year.

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Trump aides reportedly downplaying idea of increase in gas tax for infrastructure

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Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y., surrounded by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other congressional Democrats, talks with reporters after meeting with President Donald Trump about infrastructure at the White House last month. (Associated Press: EVAN VUCCI)

WASHINGTON — It’s looking more and more likely you’ll need a pair of double — no, triple-strength binoculars to locate even a glimmering hope that there will be a viable infrastructure bill this anytime soon.

Sure, President Donald Trump and the Democrats met recently and agreed on the need for $2.2 trillion in infrastructure improvements, but as usual, there was no talk about from whence the money would come.

And now, it appears that the best way to fund the Highway Trust Fund — at least in the eyes of the trucking industry — is being quashed by the White House.

POLITICO reported over the weekend that the White House has been reassuring conservative leaders that it has no plans to hike the gas and diesel tax to help fund the massive infrastructure package that President Donald Trump hopes to negotiate with Congress.

POLITICO reported that both acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and Russ Vought, Trump’s budget director, have repeatedly downplayed the possibility in private meetings with fiscal conservatives who are expressing alarm that Trump might embrace a massive tax increase. Concerns have specifically centered around a potential gas tax boost, an idea that Trump has flirted with during his presidency.

“It is my understanding that they are not going to be agreeing to any tax increases,” said Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist in an interview with POLITICO. Norquist said he has discussed the matter with White House officials in recent days, but did not disclose specifics. He was spotted at the White House on Friday, where he attended a meeting with Vought in which conservative leaders discussed upcoming spending battles, according to two attendees.

One long-simmering rumor that took off after the Trump-Democrats meeting was that Trump might endorse an increase in the gas tax to help fund the infrastructure package. It’s a prospect that deeply unsettles conservatives and some administration officials, who oppose any tax increase to pay for the projects.

Both the American Trucking Associations and the Truckload Carriers Association have publicly said they believe a gas tax increase is the best way to fund infrastructure improvements.

 

 

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U.S. states’ drones inspect bridges, help predict avalanches

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This Jan. 16, 2019 photo taken by a Utah Highway Patrol drone shows a big rig that has crashed into a restaurant in Wellington, Utah. In Utah, drones are hovering near avalanches to measure roaring snow. In North Carolina, they're combing the skies for the nests of endangered birds. In Kansas, meanwhile, they could soon be identifying sick cows through heat signatures. A survey released Monday, May 20, 2019 shows transportation agencies are using drones in nearly every U.S. state. (Utah Highway Patrol via AP, File)

SALT LAKE CITY — In Utah, drones are hovering near avalanches to watch roaring snow. In North Carolina, they’re searching for the nests of endangered birds. In Kansas, they could soon be identifying sick cows through heat signatures.
Public transportation agencies are using drones in nearly every state, according to a survey obtained by The Associated Press ahead of its release Monday. The report from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials shows a sharp increase in their use over the last few years, reflecting the rapid adoption of the technology by governments as well as hobbyists.
In 2016, the nonprofit group found no state transportation agency was using drones on a daily basis. Now, 36 states have certified drone pilots on staff. When the survey was done this month, all but one state was using drones in some way. Since then, the lone holdout — Rhode Island — has bought a drone, said Tony Dorsey, a spokesman for the group.
The small, unmanned aircraft are often used for mundane tasks, like inspecting bridges and roads. With sophisticated cameras and thermal technology, they can detect tiny cracks and identify potential potholes before they’re visible to the human eye.
Drones have caused their share of headaches for officials over the years as personal devices forced the grounding of planes at airports or those fighting wildfires.
But they also can be useful for work that’s dangerous for people. In Utah, drones record from the air as state workers set off planned avalanches, allowing them to watch the slides close up in real time, said Jared Esselman, director of aeronautics at the state Department of Transportation.
Drones also can measure snow and other elements of the state’s rugged terrain to keep them from blocking roads or other infrastructure.
“We can predict not only snow slides, but mudslides and water runoff as the snow melts,” Esselman said. “Drones are a perfect tool for any job that is dangerous or dirty.”
Utah is getting 40 new drones to take photos at traffic wrecks for the investigation.
In North Carolina, drones are finding the nests of endangered species like the red-cockaded woodpecker, said Basil Yap, unmanned aerial systems program manager at the state’s transportation department.
People used to fan out in helicopters or all-terrain vehicles to check for evidence of the protected birds before building new projects, but the drones can do the job quicker with less disruption, Yap said.
They’re also used to check for protected bats nesting under bridges and to spray herbicide on invasive plants near shorelines.
North Carolina is one of three states working with the Federal Aviation Administration to test drones beyond the operator’s line of sight, at night and over people. The FAA does not usually allow those uses without a special waiver.
Also part of the program is Kansas, where workers are using drones to create sophisticated farming programs and monitor cattle heat signatures to prevent any illnesses from spreading.
A number of states are beginning to explore how to regulate a flood of private drone traffic expected in the future. In Ohio, the state is working on an air-traffic control system called SkyVision, which would allow drones to detect and avoid other aircraft in flight.

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CVTA releases guidance publication for new ELDT regulation

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The compliance guide contains best practices developed by the committee, comprehensive forms to assist with mandatory documentation, and an expansive overview of the new curriculum and reporting requirements. (Courtesy: CVTA)

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The Commercial Vehicle Training Association (CVTA) is releasing a three-part guidance publication “Entry-Level Driver Training: Compliance Guide” to provide member schools the knowledge and support needed to comply with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT) regulation.

The program captures the lessons learned from CVTA’s ELDT Pilot Program Committee, which has been testing ELDT since September 2018, according to CVTA President Don Lefeve.

To aid schools in navigating the regulation, the compliance guide contains best practices developed by the committee, comprehensive forms to assist with mandatory documentation, and an expansive overview of the new curriculum and reporting requirements, he said.

“CVTA has been a leader in working across the industry and with key government stakeholders to build robust training requirements that support safety and develop high quality commercial truck drivers,” Lefeve said. “This compliance guide ensures our schools will have the tools to implement the new regulation and set up their students for future success.”

As a result of the new regulation, which takes effect on February 7, 2020, anyone that provides training to new commercial drivers must adhere to federal theory and behind-the-wheel curriculum requirements intended to increase highway safety and driver proficiency. The new rule was designed to ensure all entry-level drivers are properly trained prior to sitting for their CDL skills exam.

The compliance guide is complimentary for CVTA members and CVTA leaders will work with member schools to effectively implement the new regulation.

Further ensuring CVTA member organizations remain at the forefront of the training industry, the association will begin a voluntary ELDT compliance program for its members beginning on July 1.

This program will offer members the ability to assemble and submit requisite documentation in order to prepare for ELDT’s implementation date.

“Our voluntary compliance program will give members the opportunity to identify and modify any gaps in their curriculum, work through any administrative issues, and ensure they are well prepared in advance of the real compliance date,” Lefeve said.

Finally, CVTA will require its members to submit certain behind-the-wheel and other documentation once members apply for the Training Provider Registry.

The Commercial Vehicle Training Association is the largest association representing commercial truck driver training programs in the United States. CVTA members represent over 200 training locations in 42 states, who collectively train over 50,000 commercial drivers annually. Advancing the interests of trucking’s workforce providers and employers, Lefeve said CVTA advocates for policies that enhance safety through commercial driver training, enabling students to secure employment within the trucking and bus industries, thus further advancing driver professionalism.

For more information visit .

 

 

 

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