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Ohio state transportation director warns of road funding crisis

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ODOT Director Jack Marchbanks says Onio's road funding situation is grim and dangerous. (Courtesy: OHIO DOT)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio’s road maintenance and infrastructure are facing an “impending crisis” unless more funding is provided for those types of projects, according to the state’s Department of Transportation director.

ODOT Director Jack Marchbanks issued his warning recently before an advisory panel that will make funding recommendations to Republican Gov. Mike DeWine.

Marchbanks said contracts for road maintenance that totaled $2.4 billion in 2014 may drop to $1.5 billion in 2020, and a $1 billion gap remains in the department budget. He said there will be no new roads or other projects in the foreseeable future, and 90 percent of the department’s money must go toward road maintenance.

“It is a grim financial situation,” Marchbanks said. “It is also a dangerous one.”

The director said without more funding to fix the state’s roads, more crashes will happen.

Col. Paul Pride, superintendent of the State Highway Patrol, has said road conditions — including maintenance issues and inclement weather — contribute to about a third of highway fatalities.

Years of flat revenue from the gas tax, debt payments and increased highway construction costs have all contributed to the financial situation, Marchbanks said.

Former Republican Gov. John Kasich and lawmakers approved $1.5 billion in short-term transportation funding in 2013. However, that money was either spent or committed.

“There is a level of borrowing that’s responsible, and we’re not saying ODOT won’t borrow funds in the future,” Marchbanks said. “But we’ve loaded on too much debt.”

He said ODOT already is spending $390 million each year to pay for prior borrowing against future gas-tax revenue.

Jim Aslanides, a member of the advisory panel, described that debt number as “very startling.”

Aslanides, president of the Ohio Oil & Gas Association, said the “public, for the most part, needs to be educated about this.”

The governor and lawmakers are considering an increase in the gas tax. The state’s 28-cent-per-gallon gas tax has not been increased since 2005, and it is lower than all neighboring states except for Kentucky.

Marchbanks said he will not make any recommendations, but the department estimates that increasing fees on electric and hybrid vehicles would raise about $2.5 million each year.

Increasing the gas tax by 1 cent would bring in about $67 million per year, Marchbanks said.

DeWine is expected to present his two-year transportation budget proposal to the state General Assembly this month.

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Rand McNally Releases 2020 Motor Carriers’ Road Atlas

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CHICAGO — One of the best parts of summer is the succession of in-season favorites: strawberry season, blueberry season, watermelon season, cherry season, apple season.

It may not be mouthwatering, but professional truck drivers always look forward to the first day of summer, because it’s right around then that Rand McNally released updated editions of the guide that has been helping them navigate North America for decades, Rand McNally’s Motor Carriers’ Road Atlas.

The 2020 edition of the atlas – available in paperback, and a version with laminated pages and a spiral binding – was released June 18, and are available at travel centers, in bookstores on e-commerce stores, or you can pick them right off the tree, so to speak, at Rand McNally’s .

Despite all the technological innovations over the years designed to help drivers find their way, professionals still like to keep an updated printed edition on hand to provide the big picture and a fail-safe backup for truck-accessible routing, state trucking regulations, and cross-country tolling information.

“The Motor Carriers’ Road Atlas is an essential item that drivers keep in their truck cabs,” said Stephen Fletcher, CEO of Rand McNally, in a press release. “Although Rand McNally provides advanced fleet management and logistics technology, it’s also critical to our customers that we provide updated and upgraded atlases each year.”

This year’s atlases include:

  • Revised U.S. state and Canadian province maps
  • Updated restricted routes, low-clearance, and weigh station locations
  • An updated fuel tax chart, as well as revised state and province information including weight and size limitations, registration guidelines, and phone numbers and websites for state police and operating authorities
  • Hotlines for road construction and conditions
  • Updated toll-system contact information for each state, and
  • An updated review of Hazmat regulations.

In addition, the atlases feature fresh new covers that celebrate the truck and the open road.

Bendix workers in Mexico channel their inner Vikings

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Employees at the Bendix facility in Acuna, Mexico, took a break from manufacturing advanced truck safety systems to construct Viking-style longboats. The activity was a weekend team-building exercise. (Courtesy: BENDIX)

When people in trucking hear the name Bendix, they think of an industry leader in cutting-edge driver safety-assist technology. They think of Bendix’s ever-evolving Wingman system, and how its individual components, like its Electronic Stability Program, or ESP, and its collision mitigation and lane departure warning systems have been brought together in the latest incarnation, Wingman Fusion.

The company is unquestionably at the forefront of 21st-century trucking technology. It turns out they might be handy if you’re planning a raiding party.

Bendix’s manufacturing plant in Acuna, Mexico, is a sprawling complex. Opened in 1988, the 412,000 square-foot operation consists of three state-of-the-art facilities and a logistics center. The operation employs more than 1,800 workers.  Knorr-Bremse, the parent company of Bendix, considers the Acuna operation to be one of its jewels, naming it its top-ranked plant worldwide in 2011.

But even the best need a little boost now and then, and when management decided to hold an entertaining, team-building event at the hi-tech Mexican facility, they of course took their inspiration from 10th-century Scandinavia.

On a recent Saturday, about 200 employees from the Acuna plant got together for a little lighthearted but purposeful competition meant to foster creative thinking and communication. The groups were split into teams and given the challenge to build two, 45-foot wooden Viking boats.

Each team split into groups, each tasked with building a certain part of the boat, emphasizing how a team approach can be effective in achieving goals. The teams were faced with time, planning, and strategy challenges.

Acuna plant manager Jackie Perez explained the challenge was more than a chance to wear horned hats and have a laugh or two.

“It helps us consolidate practices that allow us, as a company, to achieve shared goals, drive camaraderie, and, above all, work together every single day for the same common purpose,” Perez said.

The ship-building activity was followed up with a conference on emotional intelligence, “designed to drive synergy and a sense of belonging through a deeper understanding of tools and recommendations to become more productive, maintain a positive attitude, and consolidate the company’s values,” according to a company press release.

“I was pleased to share and experience great team spirit, joy, and enthusiasm during the activities performed, culminating with the goal planned at the beginning of the event, building Viking ships,” said Belem Fierro, human resources manager at the Acuna plant. “These activities, as well as the emotional intelligence conference, are part of the training programs that Bendix is driving to continue to create leaders. The skills developed through these programs will contribute to a sustainable growth that will allow us to continue being the best in what we are and what we do.”

Just so long as they don’t decide to sack and pillage anywhere.

Volvo, partners explore human behavior prediction for trucking industry

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A demonstration of Perceptive Automata's artificial intelligence tracking and signaling in real-time the likely intention to cross and awareness of two pedestrians near a Volvo VNR 300 heavy-duty truck model. The AI is able to track, in parallel and with a 360-degree field of view, a practically unlimited number of pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles to enhance professional drivers' situational awareness in road environments. (Courtesy: VOLVO TRUCKS NORTH AMERICA)

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Recently, Volvo Trucks North America, along with automated vehicle software provider Perceptive Automata and customer Dependable Highway Express (DHE), showcased a collaborative innovation project designed to strengthen safety capabilities for the trucking industry through automation.

This project leverages human intuition artificial intelligence that reads the intention and awareness of vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists, to enhance the situational awareness of truck drivers, according to Aravind Kailas, research and innovation manager at Volvo Group North America.

Volvo Trucks recognized the critical need for improved safety for all road users, specifically to augment situational awareness and better anticipate human behavior while on the road, Kailas said, adding that the company developed a proof-of-concept together with Perceptive Automata and DHE which was successfully demonstrated at DHE headquarters in Ontario, California recently.

At the event, attendees experienced Perceptive Automata’s artificial intelligence (AI) software on a Volvo VNR 300 regional-haul model. Attendees also got to observe the AI in action during live drives.

“Safety is a core value at Volvo Trucks, and we continue to explore new and innovative ways to further enhance transportation safety, as well as improve driver support and comfort,” Kailas said. “We are very proud of the collaboration with Perceptive Automata and DHE, who share our vision for increasing safety and have worked diligently over the last six to eight months to bring this project to life.”

Perceptive Automata is focusing on solving one of the most challenging problems for automated vehicles — understanding the state of mind of humans in our road environment, according to Sid Misra, chief executive officer of Perceptive Automata.

Its AI software ingests data from on-vehicle sensors and, like humans, assesses in real-time the likely intention and awareness of pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers by reading visual cues such as eye contact, posture, physical orientation, and head movements.

Increased safety is achieved through continuous 360-degree monitoring of human road users near the truck and, when warranted, signaling to the truck driver and on-board automated systems increased risk based on changes in human intention.

This enables earlier preventive actions by the truck driver, supported by the truck’s automated systems, to reduce the likelihood of accidents and to help modulate the amount and severity of braking and acceleration, Misra said.

“Advanced automation in trucking is an important application of our human behavior prediction technology, and we are excited to team with Volvo Trucks and DHE to demonstrate its impact on trucking safety,” he said. “Volvo Trucks’ culture of safety and DHE’s service excellence align with our vision for the future of automated trucking and advanced driver support, and this project showcased how automation technology can enhance the situational awareness of truck drivers to reduce cognitive load and driver fatigue, and, ultimately, safe lives.”

DHE was integral in this project and provided real-world data from its fleet operations to enable the customization of the AI software for this specific application and to successfully showcase it at DHE’s Ontario, California site.

“DHE’s quest for excellence in all areas, especially safety, is obvious as we specify all our Volvo truck models with every safety feature available from its factory,” said Joe Finney, chief operating officer at DHE. “We are excited to play a part in the research and development of this automation technology and the positive impact it can have in keeping everyone safer on the roads of the world.”

Kailas said automation and driver support enhancements that help predict and prevent potential incidents will be essential to improving road safety now and in the future.”

“While we recognize highly automated processes progress gradually and over time, we have gained valuable information from this collaboration in a short period of time,” he said.  8

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