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Interstates need overhaul; reports calls for 20-year plan

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WASHINGTON — The future of the U.S. Interstate Highway System is threatened by a persistent and growing backlog of structural and operational deficiencies and by various looming challenges, such as the progress of automated vehicles, developments in electric vehicles, and vulnerabilities due to climate change.

Unless a commitment is made to remedy the system’s deficiencies and prepare for these oncoming challenges, there is a real risk that the nation’s interstates will become increasingly unreliable and congested, far more costly to maintain, less safe, incompatible with evolving technology, and vulnerable to the effects of extreme weather, says a new Congressionally- mandated report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

The report calls for a 20-year “blueprint for action,” which includes creating an “Interstate Highway System Renewal and Modernization Program,” increasing the federal fuel tax to help pay for it and allowing tolls and per-mile-charges on more interstate routes.

“The interstates have long been the backbone of our country’s transportation system, but most of them have exceeded their design lives and in many places are worn and overused,” said Norman Augustine, former chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp. and chair of the committee that wrote the report.  “These aging interstates are highly congested oftentimes and in need of reconstruction.  Furthermore, technological advances are offering new opportunities, but they may also undermine a principal source of income for the interstates, namely the tax on fuel.  We recommend a course of action that is aggressive and ambitious, but by no means novel.  Essentially, we need a reinvigoration of the federal and state partnership that produced the Interstate Highway System in the first place.”

The Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways was authorized in 1956 and designed to provide safe and efficient transportation across states.  The highways serve as both urban commuter and inter-urban travel corridors, integrate the country’s freight system by connecting to major ports and rail hubs, and are critical to the logistics of national defense.

Constituting about 1 percent of public road mileage, the interstates carry about one-fourth of the nation’s vehicle miles traveled, including about one-half of the miles traveled by heavy trucks.

Moreover, per vehicle mile traveled, interstate highways are the safest roads in the country.  Because of their heavy use, however, they still account for more than 5,000 traffic deaths per year.  Nevertheless, today they suffer from severe congestion, mainly in urban areas, and in many cases are in need of costly reconstruction.

The committee identified a series of challenges – both long-standing and emerging ones – that confront the future of the interstates.  These include rebuilding the system’s pavements, bridges, and other aging assets before they become unserviceable and less safe; adding more traffic capacity and demand management capabilities, especially on congested urban segments; ensuring the system’s coverage keeps pace with changes in the location of the country’s population and economic growth; improving safety as traffic volumes increase; adapting to changing vehicle technologies; adopting new user-based funding mechanisms that will generate the needed reinvestment revenues; and incorporating changing climate conditions into planning and design.  For example, more than one-third of interstate bridges have been in service for more than 50 years and will require repair and renewal investments that will add significantly to the major outlays required for rebuilding the system’s original pavement foundation.  In addition, large metropolitan areas are expected to continue to account for most of the country’s population growth, yet their interstates have little room to expand locally and are likely to require innovative solutions to accommodate growing travel demand.

The committee noted that advances in technology – ranging from more efficient and faster construction methods and more durable materials to electronic tolling and increasingly connected and automated vehicles – could make the rebuilding of the Interstate Highway System and the allocation of its capacity more manageable, while also furthering the continual goal of increasing the system’s capacity and level of safety.

Recent combined state and federal capital spending on the interstates has been approximately $25 billion annually.  To renew and modernize these highways over the next 20 years, $45 billion to $70 billion will be required annually, depending on uncertainties, such as the rate of growth of vehicle miles traveled.  The committee noted, however, that these estimates may be low, because they do not include funding required to reconfigure and reconstruct many of the interstates’ 15,000 interchanges or make the system more resilient to the effects of climate change.

To raise the additional new revenue needed for system upgrades, the committee recommended increasing the federal fuel tax in the near term and allowing tolls or per-mile charges on interstate users.  Lifting the ban on tolling that applies to most general purpose interstate lanes would provide states and metropolitan areas with more options for raising revenue for their share of RAMP investments and for managing the traffic demand on and operations of interstate segments that offer limited opportunity for physical expansion.

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The Nation

CVSA’s Brake Safety Week scheduled for September 15-22

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During Brake Safety Week, CVSA is highlighting brake hoses/tubing as a reminder of their importance to vehicle mechanical fitness and safety. (The Trucker file photo)

GREENBELT, Md. — The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance’s Brake Safety Week is scheduled for September 15-22.

Throughout that week, enforcement officials will conduct roadside safety inspections on commercial motor vehicles throughout North America.

Vehicles with critical brake violations, or other critical vehicle inspection item violations, will be restricted from traveling until those violations are corrected. Vehicles without critical vehicle inspection item violations are eligible to receive a CVSA decal indicating that the vehicle passed inspection.

During this year’s Brake Safety Week, inspectors will be paying special attention to brake hoses/tubing.

While checking these brake system components is always part of the North American Standard Inspection Program, CVSA is highlighting brake hoses/tubing as a reminder of their importance to vehicle mechanical fitness and safety.

Routine brake system inspections and component replacement are vital to the safety of commercial motor vehicles. The brake systems on commercial motor vehicles are comprised of components that work together to slow and stop the vehicle and brake hoses/tubing are essential for the proper operation of those systems. Brake hoses/tubing must be properly attached, undamaged, without leaks and appropriately flexible. Brake hoses/tubing are an important part of the braking system so when they do fail, they can cause problems for the rest of the braking system.

“We all know how important a properly functioning brake system is to vehicle operation,” said CVSA President Chief Jay Thompson with the Arkansas Highway Police. “All components of the brake system must always be in proper operating condition. Brake systems and their parts and components must be routinely checked and carefully and consistently maintained to ensure the health and safety of the overall vehicle.”

Out-of-adjustment brakes and brake-system violations represented 45 percent of all out-of-service vehicle violations issued during last year’s three-day International Roadcheck enforcement campaign.

And, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s 2018 Pocket Guide to Large Truck and Bus Statistics, brake-related violations accounted for six of the top 20 most frequently cited vehicle violations in 2017.

Thompson said the goal of Brake Safety Week is to reduce the number of crashes caused or made more severe by faulty brake systems on commercial motor vehicles by conducting roadside inspections and identifying and removing unsafe commercial motor vehicles from our roadways.

In addition to inspections and enforcement, outreach and awareness efforts by law enforcement agencies to educate drivers, motor carriers, mechanics, owner-operators and others on the importance of proper brake maintenance, operation and performance are integral to the success of this safety initiative.

In the 14 jurisdictions using performance-based brake testers (PBBT), vehicle braking efficiency will be measured using that tool. PBBTs determine overall vehicle braking efficiency or the total brake force over the effective total gross weight. The minimum required braking efficiency for trucks or combinations with gross vehicle weight rating above 10,000 pounds is 43.5 percent, required by § 393.52 of the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations and the CVSA North American Standard Out-of-Service Criteria.

Brake Safety Week is part of the Operation Airbrake Program, sponsored by CVSA in partnership with FMCSA and the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Nation

Diesel prices drop everywhere, and by more than a nickel in California

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The average price for a gallon of diesel nationwide fell by 3.5 cents for the week ending June 17, to currently stand at $3.07 per gallon, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

For the second week in a row, diesel prices fell in every region of the country, with California seeing the largest drop, 5.2 cents, to stand at $4.006 per gallon. This is in contrast to roughly a month ago, when California was seeing price increases while most of the rest of the nation was experiencing a drop in diesel prices.

Overall along the West Coast, diesel fell 4.9 cents this week, to $3.666. Not including California, diesel prices along the rest of the West Coast are down to $3.23 per gallon, down 23.5 cents from a year ago.

East Coast diesel prices didn’t drop quite as far. In New England, the price dropped 3.2 cents, to finish at $3.153 per gallon. The Central Atlantic region continues t have the highest prices on the East Coast, at $3.282 following a decrease of 2.6 cents. The Lower Atlantic saw a decrease of 2.5 cents. The price for a gallon of diesel there is currently $2.964, one of three regions where diesel has fallen below $3.

With a drop of 4.5 cents, the Midwest claims the second-lowest current price for a gallon of diesel, $2.957, well off the low-price leader, the Gulf Coast region, where diesel is now $2.820 after a drop of 2.3 cents.

The Rocky Mountain region also saw a sharp drop, 4.2 cents, to stand at $3.072, which is 26.7 cents lower than a year ago, the largest year-to-year drop.

On Monday, Brent crude, the global benchmark, rose 70 cents, or 1.13%, to settle at $62.01 a barrel. U.S.-based West Texas Intermediate crude rose 23 cents, or 0.44%, to settle at $52.51 a barrel.

Click here for a complete list of average prices by region for the past three weeks.

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The Nation

Truck Driver: A job for some, a game for others

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When people ask me about my job, one of the most common questions is where we get stuff to write about.

I wish I could say we keep our company Lear Jet on permanent standby to whisk us from Little Rock to wherever the action is.  The truth is nowhere near as cool. We get most of it right here at our desks.  Some of it comes to us in the form of press releases. We find other stuff on the news wire services, like Associated Press. A lot of the rest of it, we get from Googling.  If we see something big or breaking, or cool and weird, we look into it.

My day usually starts with a keyword search of the world. A few days ago, it appeared that one item was by far the most important thing happening on planet Earth, at least under the headings “truck,” “trucking” and “tractor-trailer.” There were about a half-dozen websites posting on it. Immediately, I refreshed my coffee, then my fingers sprang into action to investigate.

Stop the presses, everyone, the story was about a new video game called Truck Driver due to be released in September. The game is produced by a Dutch company called SOEDESCO. Personally, I haven’t played a video game since the last time I ran out of quarters at the 7-Eleven. That was 1986, as I recall, so I couldn’t tell you if SOEDESCO is a major player in the game design world, but the press release and preview video for the game had apparently set the gaming world agog.

Apparently, this new game is going to put all previous truck driving video games to shame. “Really?” I thought. “There’ve been others?” I checked. Yes, there have — several, in fact. But this one promises to be the most realistic trucking experience available.

According to the official literature, some of the most exciting aspects of Truck Driver is you get to (and this is word for word): “Enjoy a trucking experience focused on your career as a truck driver, build stronger relationships with the local community with each job, customize your truck with tons of parts and tune it to your liking, explore a vast open world and watch it progress with you, navigate through beautiful landscapes and fully explorable cities.”

All without leaving mom’s basement.

I watched the preview video and read the literature. The premise of the game is that you’ve inherited a truck from your uncle, and the game is to become a successful independent owner-operator. You have to “interact” with fictional “customers,” building “relationships” by successfully hauling loads. The game features fun-filled challenges like backing up, hitching a trailer and pulling up to a fuel pump, and then traversing artificial highways and byways without crashing into stuff.

The first thing you do is pick your avatar. You can be male or female, white or black. All the choices are young, good-looking and incredibly fit, you know, just like real truck drivers.

I started to wonder if the game’s realism might be overstated. I had some questions the promotional video didn’t address. Does the game include being stuck at a shipper for hours on end? Do the challenges include finding parking for the night? How many braindead four-wheelers do you have to share the simulated road with?

Given the addictive tendencies of some of these gamers, is there a penalty for HOS violations?

On one of the websites that was sharing this major announcement, someone commented they looked forward to playing this game, right after they get done with “Hanging Sheetrock” and “Ditch Digging.” My reaction had been similar. Granted, as I said, when I left video games behind, they consisted of shooting space bugs, apes who threw things at you and round things trying to eat other round things. I know video games have gotten much more sophisticated and diverse and immersive.

Still, when I think of interactive fantasy play, hauling logs is never the fantasy.

I wasn’t sure how real truck drivers would react to this game. Would they find it ridiculous, maybe even insulting that their profession has been packaged into an oversimplified, sanitized game? Or that some of these passive dolts will think they now know all about trucking because they reached Level 4, or whatever?

If they really want to know what being a truck driver is like, hey, there are plenty of jobs available. They can pry their butts out of the La-Z-Boy and come find out.

Then again, it’s kind of flattering. Truckers often complain how disrespected they are, how people look down on them. The mere existence of a game like this shows that on some level, the opposite is true. Now, as always, the truck driver holds a certain mystique to outsiders. People are fascinated and intimidated at how you handle those enormous vehicles. You represent the romance of the open road. You’re mysterious in a cool way, kind of like a cowboy.

OK, maybe the game doesn’t show what it’s really like to be a truck driver. Maybe that isn’t the point. It’s about fantasy.

I looked to see if I could find any “pretend you’re a journalist” video games out there. Not a one.

If there is, I doubt I’d recommend it

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