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Road crew staffing spotlighted in Kansas budget debate

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In this photo from January 31, Jacob Woerner, a Kansas Department of Transportation equipment operator and maintenance worker, repairs a highway delineator on Interstate 70 west of Topeka, Kansas. Delineators mark the side of a highway for motorists at night and during storms so that they don’t go off a road’s shoulder, and Woerner says, “There’s quite a bit of work that we do that people don’t notice.” (Associated Press: JOHN HANNA)

TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas has trouble keeping road equipment operators from leaving for other, better-paying jobs — so much so that supervisors worry about being able to cobble together crews to clear snow after blizzards and to fill potholes quickly.

For Department of Transportation leaders, the 100 percent annual turnover rate among entry-level equipment operators signals a problem that requires an immediate solution. For new Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, the staffing woes are a prime example of the worse-than-expected problems she says she found as she was preparing to take office last month.

Like many funding questions, it’s a Rorschach test, viewed as more or less important based on an official’s overall philosophy of government.

Kelly says it’s part of an overarching message that state government might take years to recover from damage caused by past Republican tax-cutting policies. But some Republican legislators are skeptical that KDOT faces a crisis and think Kelly is overstating problems to push the GOP-controlled Legislature into higher spending.

“We probably have a lot of work to do, but is it in as bad a shape as she’s alleging? No,” Sen. Richard Hilderbrand, a conservative Galena Republican.

The conflicting agendas leave KDOT workers and supervisors with the daily chore of filling out crews to fix potholes, repair or replace signs, pick up trash and clear highways. KDOT says it needs almost 1,200 operators to drive trucks; 640 of the jobs are filled. In Topeka, supervisor Mike Daniel is supposed to have 12 workers and has seven, with three still training to operate equipment.

“It’s just a constant trying to catch up,” said Daniel, who has worked for KDOT for 36 years. “It has gotten progressively worse, probably, in the past five to eight years.”

Kansas has had a national reputation for good highways because of its commitment to big, multi-year transportation programs since the late 1980s.

The libertarian Reason Foundation has consistently rated the Kansas system as one of the nation’s best — ranking it 2nd in 2018. Republicans have cited its reports to counter criticism that GOP officials have allowed the state’s roads fall into disrepair.

Other ratings are not as generous. The American Society of Civil Engineers said in a report last year that Kansas had consistently kept 80 percent of its roads in good condition for two decades but still gave its highway system a C-minus grade, partly over funding concerns. There’s bipartisan agreement that funding for highway programs has been shorted too much over the past decade.

The state started a 10-year transportation program in 2010 meant to tackle safety issues and modernize bottlenecked stretches. But the program became “the Bank of KDOT,” with nearly $2.5 billion diverted to other parts of state government to close budget shortfalls, almost two-thirds of the amount in the last four years.

Legislators of all political philosophies have decried the continued diversion of transportation funds, and Kelly said while running for governor last year that the state had to stop the practice.

But to reach her top goals of boosting spending on public schools and expanding state Medicaid health coverage for the needy, she’s not proposing to end the siphoning off of highway funds immediately. Her proposed spending blueprint for the next fiscal year still diverts $369 million, and her stated goal is end the practice by 2023.

Kelly raised KDOT’s staffing as an issue even before taking office. Pay is a big issue. Other parts of state government have similar concerns: Prisons have trouble keeping uniformed officers even after special efforts to boost salaries, and wages are a long-standing sore point in the court system.

KDOT promises untrained equipment operators that they’ll get commercial driver’s licenses within two months, but it starts them in metro areas at $13.33 an hour. After three years, a senior equipment operator would earn a little more than $14 an hour.

The city of Topeka just bumped its starting pay for street maintenance workers by nearly $2 an hour, to $15. Daniel said area contractors will pay laborers — who don’t need a commercial driver’s license — from $15 to $18 an hour.

“I’m really worried about churning people like we’re churning them,” said interim Transportation Secretary Julie Lorenz. “We currently have stuff cobbled together, and that’s not where we want to be.”

Rep. J.R. Claeys, a conservative Salina Republican who was chairman of a House budget committee on transportation funding for four years, questioned whether the department needs as many equipment operators as it says.

“I drive Kansas interstates frequently, and I know that they are doing an excellent job, (a) keeping the ditches mowed and (b) keeping our roads clear and safe,” said Claeys.

Story by John Hanna, Associated Press Political Writer

 

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The Nation

Big rig causes 100-year-old bridge to collapse in North Dakota

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This undated photo provided by Grand Forks County Sheriff's Department shows the overweight semi that caused the collapse of a small, historic bridge near Northwood, N.D. Authorities say the semi, with a trailer load of dry beans, was traveling on the 56-foot-long, restricted-weight bridge over the Goose River Monday. (Grand Forks County Sheriff's Department via AP)

NORTHWOOD, N.D. — Sheriff’s officials say an overweight semitrailer loaded with dried beans caused a more-than-century-old bridge to collapse in North Dakota.

Grand Forks County sheriff’s officials say the bridge over the Goose River near Northwood collapsed Monday afternoon. Photos show the wooden and iron span buckling under the weight of the vehicle. The bridge is partly submerged in the water.

Police said a 2005 Peterbilt semi-truck was driving on the bridge when the structure reportedly crumpled beneath it, causing the trailer to hangover the west abutment.

The 56-foot-long bridge was built in 1906 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

It has a 14 ton weight restriction. Sheriff’s officials say the semitrailer was 29 tons over that limit.

The driver, who was not injured, faces an $11,400 overload fine.

Officials say it will cost up to $1 million to replace the bridge.

It was not immediately clear if weight-limit signs were posted, and police said the incident was still under investigation

Northwood is about 200 miles northeast of Bismarck.

 

 

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Women In Trucking names its 2019 top woman-owned businesses

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Angela Eliacostas is the founder and owner of AGT Global Logistics, one of the companies the Women In Trucking Association has named its 2019 Top Women-Owned Businesses in Transportation. (Courtesy: Women in Trucking)

PLOVER, Wisc. —  The Women In Trucking Association (WIT) has announced its annual list of the “Top Woman-Owned Businesses in Transportation.”

The names of the companies being recognized in 2019 were released in the latest edition of Redefining the Road, the official magazine of WIT.

WIT created the list was created to recognize women in leadership and encourage more women to become proactive leaders in their organizations and even start their own businesses, WIT president and CEO Ellen Voie said. The program supports WIT’s overall mission “To encourage the employment of women in the trucking industry, promote their accomplishments, and minimize the obstacles they face.”

Entrepreneurship is a viable means of economic self-sufficiency, and many women are choosing an enterprise connected to transportation to be part of their career aspirations, according to Brian Everett, publisher of Redefining the Road.

Companies considered for the recognition must meet criteria that includes majority ownership by a woman, financial stability and growth, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit. Each company was nominated and chosen based upon business success and accomplishments, including those related to gender diversity.

This year’s list includes companies from a diverse range of business sectors in the commercial freight transportation marketplace, including motor carriers, third-party logistics companies and original equipment manufacturers.

Companies named to the 2019 “Top Woman-Owned Businesses” list and their primary female business owners are:

  • Bennett International Group; Marcia G. Taylor, CEO
  • Kenco Logistics; Jane Kennedy Greene, chairwoman
  • London Auto Truck Center; Donna Childers, vice president
  • Rihm Family Companies; Kari Rihm, president and CEO
  • Veriha Trucking, Inc.; Karen Smerchek, president
  • Rush Trucking Corp.; Andra Rush, CEO
  • Aria Logistics; Arelis Gutierrez, CEO
  • Lodgewood Enterprises; Arlene Gagne, president
  • S-2international, LLC; Jennifer Mead, CEO
  • International Express Trucking; Karen Duff, president and CEO
  • Brenny Transportation, Inc.; Joyce Brenny, CEO and founder
  • Knichel Logistics; Kristy Knichel, CEO
  • Garner Trucking; Sherri Garner Brumbaugh, CEO
  • LYNC Logistics; Cindy Lee, president
  • Ontario Truck Training Academy; Yvette Lagrois, president
  • AGT Global Logistics; Angela Eliacostas, owner and founder
  • Powersource Transportation; (Barb Bakos, president
  • LaunchIt Public Relations; Susan Fall, president
  • United Federal Logistics, Inc.; Jennifer Behnke, president
  • BCP Transportation; Nancy Spelsberg, Ardis Jourdan, Kristie Rozinski
  • Ladybird Logistics Ltd.; Felicia Payin Marfo, managing director
  • DGT Trucking; Donna G. Sleasman, owner
  • RFX Inc.; Kimberly Welby, president and CEO)

These companies will be recognized during a special program at the Women In Trucking Accelerate! Conference & Expo, Sept. 30 – Oct. 2 in Dallas. For more information, visit WomenInTrucking.org.

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The Nation

Can you say oversized load!

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That is big!

 

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