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Missouri Senate reaches compromise on bridge funding

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The $300 million bonding would only come if the Missouri Department of Transportation receives enough federal matching grant money to rebuild the Interstate 70 bridge in the mid-Missouri city of Rocheport. (The Trucker file photo)

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo.  — Missouri senators on Thursday gave initial approval to a compromise plan by spending $50 million upfront and potentially borrowing another $300 million to fix 250 bridges across the state

The $300 million bonding would only come if the Missouri Department of Transportation receives enough federal matching grant money to rebuild the Interstate 70 bridge in the mid-Missouri city of Rocheport.

The deal comes after senators debated overnight Tuesday and into Wednesday over whether to borrow money for transportation work.

Some Republicans complained about taking on debt and interest through bonding. The new proposal reduces borrowing and commits to paying it off in a shorter period of time.

Lake Saint Louis Sen. Bob Onder said he wanted a pay-as-you-go approach, adding that “bonding debt is not my preferred way of dealing with this.”

“But I think we’re perhaps coming to a reasonable compromise on this,” he told colleagues on the Senate flood.

Lawmakers have been split over how to pay to repair roads and bridges after voters in November defeated a proposed 10-cent gas tax hike for transportation.

Republican Gov. Mike Parson in January proposed borrowing about $350 million for bridges that would be paid off over 15 years.

That plan drew bipartisan pushback, both from fiscal conservatives and a bipartisan group of Kansas City and St. Louis lawmakers who argued that not enough bridges from their areas would be repaired with the money. Others pitched asking voters again for a gas-tax increase.

Republican House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith instead proposed putting $100 million in un-earmarked general revenue toward roads and bridges each year for the next several years, which drew praise from members of the Senate’s Conservative Caucus.

But Republican Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz argued that doing so could put the federal matching grant for transportation in jeopardy. He said the state Transportation Department applied for about $172 million.

Even if the state only gets between $60 million and $70 million, Schatz said that would be enough to jumpstart plans to replace the Rocheport bridge.

The bridge is roughly in the middle of the state between St. Louis and Kansas City. Schatz said the bridge is vital to transportation and commerce in the state and was key to the compromise.

“If that’s not in play, I think it might be difficult to get any of those members to say, ‘Hey we want to take on more debt at this time,'” Schatz told reporters Thursday.

Parson in a Thursday statement thanked lawmakers for reaching the deal.

“While our preference would be for an approach that does not put the fate of long overdue bridge repairs in the hands of Washington D.C., we certainly understand that any proposed plan requires compromise to reach a workable solution,” he said.

The measure is expected to come up for a final Senate vote Monday. Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden said he worked with House leaders on the compromise and said he feels “comfortable that we will get to where we need to be to get this thing across the finish line.”

“I’m not sure anybody loves it, from all sides of the spectrum,” Rowden said. “Some folks didn’t want to bond. Some people don’t want to use general revenue. Everybody knows there’s a problem. But it’s one of those things where it is progress.”

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House panel targets design changes to improve road safety

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House T and I Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio says the U.S. has failed to invest in lowering deaths on the nation's highways. (Courtesy: HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES)

WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit delved into ways to improve roadway safety during a recent hearing and roadway design changes were targeted by members of Congress as well as witnesses as one of several ways to achieve that goal.

Yet the need to increase transportation funding loomed over that discussion, according to an article prepared by the Journal, a publication of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

“We need to look at safety from all angles – not just promoting more responsible behavior by road users, but by ensuring that roadway design takes into account all users through smart policies, such as complete streets,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chair of the House T&I Committee, in his written remarks.

“Addressing the unique elements of each community, such as pedestrian accessibility, street crossings, and bus and bike lanes, rather than a cookie-cutter approach can have a profound impact on reducing traffic accidents and fatalities,” he said.

But DeFazio also stressed that “while we invest billions of dollars in research for cancer and other diseases and allocate new resources to combatting the opioid crisis, we have failed to seriously invest in lowering deaths on our nation’s roadways.”

“I am anxious to learn from today’s witnesses … what we can do about reducing roadway fatalities,” said Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D, the at-large-representative for Washington D.C. and chair of the highways and transit subcommittee.

“I would very much like this re-authorization [of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation or FAST Act] to transform our approach to roadway safety,” she said. “To get anywhere close to zero deaths, we need to improve how we design our transportation networks, educate the users of those transportation networks, and improve how as how to enforce the proven strategies that aim to save lives but are not doing so.”

Rep. Ross Spano, R-Fla., provided additional opening remarks, noting in his written testimony that many of those “proven strategies” are safety programs administered by the Federal Highway Administration and the Newsal Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“These programs require states to have a data-driven, performance-based approach to address their unique highway safety challenges,” he said. “The FAST Act expires on September 30, 2020, and as we continue with our re-authorization process, it is important that we gather feedback on how well these programs are working and what other policy and programmatic changes the committee should consider.”

Jennifer Homendy, a member of the Newsal Transportation Safety Board, noted in her written remarks that changing the speed limit guidance within the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices or MUTCD is one potential performance-based safety tactic.

“Speed limits are a critical component of speed management [and the MUTCD] emphasizes that states and localities set speed limits within 5 miles per hour of which 85 percent of vehicles are traveling,” she said. “The focus on the 85th percentile has led to increasing speed limits across the United States. For example, in 2012, 35 states had maximum speed limits at or above 70 mph; that increased to 41 states by 2016, with seven of those states at or above 80 mph.”

She said the NTSB recommends de-emphasizing the 85th percentile approach and instead require consideration of factors which are currently only optional, such as crash history, roadway characteristics, and roadway conditions. The agency also recommends incorporating a “safe systems approach” for urban roads by evaluating pedestrian and bicycle traffic alongside motor vehicle needs.

Jay Bruemmer, vice president of Missouri-based roadway contractor K & G Striping Inc. and chairman of the government relations committee for the American Traffic Safety Services Association, noted in his testimony that while “mitigating driver behavior is a perennial challenge for transportation leaders,” several “cost-effective” roadway infrastructure countermeasures – such as wrong-way driver detection systems, high friction surface treatments, new work zone management tools, and highway cable barriers – are being successfully deployed by state departments of transportation and others in order to combat “negative driver behavior.”

In written testimony submitted for the hearing record, the AASHTO emphasized that the design guides they produce provide planners, engineers, and designers with significant flexibility in how they ultimately design a transportation project while taking into account the overall safety and operations of the facility.

Further, AASHTO stated in its remarks that those guides “do not establish mandatory requirements for how a project should be designed; rather, they emphasize flexibility and encourage planners, engineers, and designers to take into account the unique aspects of each individual project.”

AASHTO’s testimony also addressed three safety priorities identified by its Transportation Policy Forum for upcoming federal surface transportation bill re-authorization efforts. Those priorities include:

  • A continued focus on implementation of performance management regulations;
  • The need to add flexibility for the use of Highway Safety Improvement Program funding to include activities that address behavioral issues; and
  • The need to add eligibility and increased federal share for railway-highway grade crossing projects.

However, ATSSA’s Bruemmer stressed in his remarks that “none of these safety priorities can be achieved without a solvent, robustly funded Highway Trust Fund.”

AASHTO agreed with that position, emphasizing in its written testimony that “an important aspect to programming funding is flexibility both in how funds can be used among engineering, education, enforcement and emergency services efforts as well as within the engineering domain where state DOTs have the most control to identify which engineering solution may be most appropriate to improve safety.”

ATSSA’s Bruemmer further added during the hearing that continuing to spend more from the Highway Trust Fund than is collected through taxes and fees “is not a long-term solution. We need to address these deficiencies. In that regard, we strongly support an increase to user fees to address the long-term viability of the Highway Trust Fund, which include increasing and indexing the motor fuels user fees, an eventual move towards a vehicle miles traveled user fee system, and where it makes sense, the use of public private partnerships.”

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Reluctantly, we’ll bid adieu, but we’ll do it with a song in our hearts

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By this time next month, trucking will have just lost a good friend.

No, no, Mr. Deejay, hold up on the somber string quartet. That’s not the mood we want. Quite the contrary. This is about somebody who has decided to step on life’s gas pedal.

Dorothy Cox, whose thoughts and talents have been gracing the pages of The Trucker for the past 20 years, took a little time off around this past Thanksgiving. Her birthday is in that neighborhood, too, so it made for a nice personal festival for her.

You know that feeling we all get when a vacation is ending, that, “No! I’m never going back to that rat race!” feeling? Well, Dorothy got that feeling during that personal pit stop, only this time she took it seriously.

She’d been a journalist long before she came to The Trucker, and she’d been toying with the idea of retiring for a while. During this extended time away from it all, she came to the conclusion, “You know what? Life’s too short, what am I waiting for?” and announced it was time call it a career as of April 1.

As the day got near, and we found ourselves approaching a Spaghetti Junction of overlapping deadlines, Dorothy agreed to give us one more month and help see us through it.

Even with the delay, her departure will leave a sizable hole here. Whenever an organization loses someone with 20 years of accumulated knowledge and memories and insights, it’s hard to quantify how much of an asset is walking out the door. It’s way more than, “Oh, we’re one short.”

It’s incalculable on a personal level, too. Dorothy’s down-to-earth sensibilities have been an important element of this newsroom. If this were an episode of “Seinfeld,” Jerry and George would label her an “easy laugher.” She looks for the humor in things, and nine times out of 10 she finds it, and enjoys it for all it’s worth.

Next to all that truck industry knowledge, there’s a designated little corner of her brain that is like a candy jar filled with sourballs, only these sourballs are a collection of some of the corniest puns the English language has ever produced. Just like sourballs they make you wince, but you can’t wait for another.

And there isn’t an off-color joke in the batch, I should add. She’s the kind of person who’s been around the block but hasn’t become jaded by it. There are no sharp edges in her personality. It’s very easy to feel comfortable around Dorothy. That’s a valuable talent in today’s high-strung world, and she’s one of the best at it.

I’ve watched her approach truckers at the truck stop and I’ve heard her with them on the phone. They don’t just let down their defenses with her, it’s like they don’t even have any. They instantly, instinctively recognize, “Hmm, she may not have a CDL, but she’s one of us.”

When I go to trucking events, I lose count how many people want to know, “How’s Dorothy?” and want me to tell her they said hi, even if they haven’t seen her in years.

That affection is both for Dorothy the person and Dorothy the journalist. Through her writing and reporting she’s proven time and again that she has drivers’ best interests at heart. Like an old friend, she isn’t shy about acknowledging drivers’ shortcomings, especially when they are self-defeating. But she’s also always been a champion for drivers.

In the two years I’ve been going to the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas, several people have confided that it was her prodding on drivers’ behalf that sparked the momentum that has made the health and wellness pavilion such a prominent feature of that show.

In recent years, she has been a stalwart supporter of making the industry more welcoming to women. And she’s been deeply passionate in her coverage of the human trafficking problem in this country, and in setting the record straight that truckers are among the front-line heroes in that fight.

And while it isn’t as heavy a subject, she’s always been keen on promoting drivers’ creative endeavors. She especially seems to have a soft spot for musicians, probably because she is one herself. Her Arkansas twang puts her somewhere (geographically and vocally) between Loretta Lynn and Reba McEntire. I’ve heard her, and she’s good, and she’s retiring so I don’t even have to say that.

She has some friends who’s she played with for years, with whom she does a gig every now and then. In the couple months since she announced her plan to retire, whenever anyone’s asked what she plans to do with all the free time she’s going to have, the only specific thing she comes up with is maybe she’ll get more into her music.

As I try to think of a lyric that would make a fitting sendoff, I have to admit I’m not much into country music, but I grew up on all that baby boomer oldies stuff. So as a formal adieu to my friend and colleague Dorothy Cox – Mr. Deejay, if you would, cue up a little Supertramp:

Goodbye, stranger. It’s been nice. Hope you find your paradise.

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Health caution urged for truckers who ate at Kentucky Popeyes’ TA location March 17-April 5

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Hepatitis A is a viral infection of the liver that can cause loss of appetite, nausea, tiredness, fever, stomach pain, brown colored urine, light colored stools and diarrhea. (©2019 FOTOSEARCH)

FLORENCE, Ky. — A case of hepatitis A has been diagnosed in an employee who handled food at Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen located at 7777 Burlington Pike, Florence, Kentucky, within the TravelCenters of America facility.  An ongoing investigation of the facility found that this employee worked during a period of time when ill or infectious, which included the dates of March 17 through April 5.

While it is relatively uncommon for restaurant patrons to become infected with the hepatitis A virus because of an infected food handler, anyone who consumed food or drink at Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen during the dates listed is recommended to receive a vaccination if it is within two weeks of exposure as protection from becoming ill, which would include some of the time frame listed by the Northern Kentucky Health Department.

If it was during the dates listed but it has been longer than two weeks since the specific time a person ate there, it is recommended that they still get the vaccination although it will be outside the window to protect you from contracting the illness if you were exposed at this establishment.

Anyone who consumed food or drink at this Popeyes during the stated time period should monitor their health for symptoms of hepatitis A infection up to 50 days after exposure; wash their hands with soap and warm water frequently and thoroughly, especially after using the bathroom and before preparing food; and stay at home and contact their healthcare provider immediately if symptoms of hepatitis A infection develop.

The establishment’s management is cooperating with the investigation and response activities.  It has implemented enhanced disinfection steps to address surfaces that may have been contaminated.  Employees who worked with the involved employee have been informed to get hepatitis A vaccination to protect against the virus.  Co-workers have a greater risk of exposure due to prolonged close contact with the case.  Vaccination of associated food service workers helps to protect them against infection, which further protects the public.  Handwashing and related hygienic practices have been reinforced with the restaurant management and employees.  Additionally, the Health Department has directed restaurant employees to self-monitor for any symptoms of Hepatitis A that may develop over the next 50 days.

Hepatitis A is a viral infection of the liver that can cause loss of appetite, nausea, tiredness, fever, stomach pain, brown colored urine, light colored stools and diarrhea.  Yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice) may also appear.  People may have some or none of these symptoms.  It could take up to 7 weeks after being exposed to the virus for someone to become ill.  Children often do not exhibit symptoms.  Any person who believes they may have symptoms of hepatitis A should contact their healthcare provider.  Additional information regarding Hepatitis A can be found at nkyhealth.org.

Hepatitis A usually spreads when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food, or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool from an infected person. The virus spreads when an infected person does not wash his/her hands adequately after using the toilet or engages in behaviors that increase risk of infection.  Careful hand washing, including under the fingernails, with soap and water, along with vaccination of anyone at risk of infection, will help prevent the spread of this disease.

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