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State DOT execs, transportation reps throw support behind reauthorization bill

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State dot execs, transportation reps throw support behind reauthorization bill
Senate Environment and Public Works Ranking Member Tom Carper said during the July hearing that transportation is key to buttressing the “inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” put forth in the Declaration of Independence. (Courtesy: U.S. SENATE)

WASHINGTON — State DOT executives and transportation industry representatives threw their full support behind a bipartisan goal to draft a full five-year reauthorization of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation or FAST Act based on formula-funding during a July 10 Senate Environment and Public Works committee hearing.

The outcome of the hearing was reported in an article in the Journal, the official publication of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).

“I am working with ranking member [Sen. Tom] Carper [D-Del.] to advance the most substantial bipartisan highway bill ever passed by Congress,” said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., (seen above) the committee’s chairman, during his opening remarks at the hearing. “We — along with the other members of the committee — are working to pass a five-year highway infrastructure bill to fix our roads, our bridges, and our highways,” he said.

The senator then said doing so means maintaining each state’s share of highway formula funding [as] formula funding gives each state the flexibility they need to address their specific surface transportation needs.

“Maintaining the federal highway program’s current approach of distributing over 90 percent of the funds to the states by formula is the key to this. It is a proven approach that works for everyone and should be continued,” he said.

Carper went even farther in his opening remarks at the hearing, describing transportation as key to buttressing the “inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” put forth in the Declaration of Independence.

“I often link those three inalienable rights with the work we do on this committee,” he said. “The fact is, Americans cannot truly enjoy life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness without a safe transportation system that nurtures our economy, protects our environment, and enhances our mobility.”

Carlos Braceras, executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation and 2018-2019 AASHTO president, said that “predictable funding” is an important factor in the reauthorization process.

“The lack of stable, predictable funding from the Highway Trust Fund makes it nearly impossible for state DOTs to plan for large projects that need a reliable flow of funding over multiple years,” he said during his testimony. “These projects are what connect people, enhance quality of life, and stimulate economic growth in each community where they are built.”

He stressed that the “heart and soul” of the federal-aid highway program are the formula dollars supporting state and local investment decisions and are key to creating “long-term predictability” where surface transportation funding is concerned.

“The formula-based program framework built the Interstate Highway System and the National Highway System, the backbone of our national network of roads and bridges that drives our national economy,” Braceras said. “This remains the optimal approach to underpin the next surface transportation legislation that will serve all corners of our country – by improving mobility and quality of life in urban, suburban, and rural areas. If we can have long-term predictability, we also get the best value for our investments in transportation projects.”

Yet he noted that more money will be needed to do all of that successfully.

“The investment backlog for transportation infrastructure continues to increase – reaching $836 billion for highways and bridges and $122 billion for transit, according to the United States Department of Transportation,” Braceras said. “And, in order to simply maintain the current Highway Trust Fund spending levels, Congress will need to identify $90 billion in additional revenues to support a five-year [surface transportation reauthorization] bill through 2025; [while] $114 billion would be needed to support a six-year bill through 2026.”

Luke Reiner, in his first Congressional testimony as director and chief executive officer of the Wyoming Department of Transportation, noted that while formula-funding should remain the primary “emphasis” of any surface transportation reauthorization legislation, more attention needs to be paid to rural states in the process.

“Formula highway programs, in contrast to discretionary programs, should continue to receive very strong federal funding emphasis,” the former Army major general emphasized. “Formula dollars are delivered as projects more promptly than discretionary dollars – and the public is eager for transportation investment.”

Yet Reiner added that “funding provisions must reflect that significant Federal investment in highways and transportation in rural states continues to be warranted and benefits the entire nation,” noting that “rural states face major transportation infrastructure funding challenges. We can’t provide these benefits to the nation and ensure a sufficiently connected national system without Federal investment.”

For example, he said that the national per capita average contribution to the highway account of the Highway Trust fund is approximately $117, yet the per capita contribution attributable to rural states is much higher. “In Wyoming it is the highest of the states at $312 annually per capita, [with] North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana the next highest,” Reiner noted.

And the stakes are high in regard to obtaining the necessary revenue, Utah DOT’s Braceras pointed out.

“We are at an inflection point in transportation history,” he emphasized. “Our proud legacy of achievement is at risk as we face what the future could look like without a revitalized federal surface transportation program: compromised safety, seriously degraded quality of life and environment, and lack of global economic competitiveness.”

 

 

 

 

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Stretch of Highway 22 in Oregon closed after tanker crash, diesel spill

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tanker crash on highway 22
Highway 22 between Idanha and Santiam Junction is unlikely to reopen until Friday or Saturday as crews remove contaminated soil in a roadside ditch and rebuild a 600-foot section of roadway, the Oregon Department of Transportation said. (Courtesy: Oregon State Police)

IDANHA, Ore. — A stretch of Highway 22 will be closed for much of this week as crews clean up gasoline and diesel fuel that leaked out of a crashed tanker truck near Idanha along the North Santiam River, state transportation authorities said Monday.

The highway between Idanha and Santiam Junction is unlikely to reopen until Friday or Saturday as crews remove contaminated soil in a roadside ditch and rebuild a 600-foot section of roadway, the Oregon Department of Transportation said.

An oil sheen was visible on the North Santiam River downstream of the crash site, but officials said most of the tanker’s oil seeped into the ditch, where it was absorbed by the soil. It’s unclear how much entered the river, the Statesman Journal reported.

The city of Salem said Monday that its drinking water is safe and the oil from the spill has not reached its water treatment plant near Stayton, which is about 30 miles (48 kilometers) away from the crash. The oil will take several days to reach the plant, the city said, and teams will test the river water at multiple locations this week. Crews have set up absorbent berms to capture the oil on the water.

If any fuel is detected in the river, the city will close the water intake gates as it did in a similar situation three years ago.

The crash on Sunday closed Highway 22 near Detroit and Santiam Junction. The truck was carrying 10,600 gallons of fuel total — 6,500 gallons of gasoline in a tanker trailer and 4,100 gallons of diesel in the truck’s tanker.

About 7,800 gallons of fuel emptied into a roadside ditch and the rest was recovered, according to Oregon Department of Environmental Quality officials.

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FMCSA final rule lowers annual registration costs for motor carriers

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The reduction of the current 2019 registration year fees range from approximately $3 to $2,712 per entity, depending on the number of vehicles owned or operated by the affected entities. (iStock Photo)

WASHINGTON — Motor carriers will now see a reduction in the price they must pay to register their vehicles. On February 13, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration released a final rule that realigns the fees for the Unified Carrier Registration Plan.

According to the document posted on the federal register last week, this rule establishes reductions in the annual registration fees the states collect from motor carriers, motor private carriers of property, brokers, freight forwarders and leasing companies for the UCR Plan and Agreement for the registration years beginning in 2020.

“For the 2020 registration year, the fees will be reduced by 14.45% below the 2018 registration fee level to ensure that fee revenues collected do not exceed the statutory maximum, and to account for the excess funds held in the depository,” the document reads. “The fees will remain at the same level for 2021 and subsequent years unless revised in the future.”

The reduction of the current 2019 registration year fees range from approximately $3 to $2,712 per entity, depending on the number of vehicles owned or operated by the affected entities.

The UCR Plan and the 41 States participating in the UCR Agreement establish and collect fees from motor carriers, motor private carriers of property, brokers, freight forwarders and leasing companies. The UCR Plan and Agreement are administered by a 15-member board of directors; 14 appointed from the participating states and the industry, plus the Deputy Administrator of FMCSA or another Presidential appointee from the Department, according to the final rule.

Revenues collected are allocated to the participating states and the UCR Plan. If annual revenue collections will exceed the statutory maximum allowed, then the UCR Plan must request adjustments to the fees. In addition, any excess funds held by the UCR Plan after payments are made to the states and for administrative costs are retained in the UCR depository, and fees subsequently charged must be adjusted further to return the excess revenues held in the depository.

Adjustments in the fees are requested by the UCR Plan and approved by FMCSA. These two provisions are the reasons for the two- stage adjustment adopted in this final rule.

“While each motor carrier will realize a reduced burden, fees are considered by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A–4, Regulatory Analysis as transfer payments, not costs. Transfer payments are payments from one group to another that do not affect total resources available to society. Therefore, transfers are not considered in the monetization of societal costs and benefits of rulemakings,” according to the document.

The rule states that the total state revenue target is more than $107 million.

For more information or the read the rule in its entirety, visit https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/regulations/rulemaking/2020-01761.

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Rhode Island DOT looks to hike trucks-only tolls amid court battle; public input sought

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Rhode island dot wanting to hike rates on trucks-only toll system while court battle continues; public comment sought
A truck passes through one of Rhode Island's six operating toll gantries. (courtesy: Providence Journal)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — As the Connecticut legislature prepares to vote this week on Gov. Ned Lamont’s controversial and long-debated “trucks only” toll proposal, a similar system in Rhode Island continues to operate while legal action to overturn the tolls is underway.

The original Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) proposal to charge tolls on trucks only included 14 locations, all bridges RIDOT deemed as structurally deficient. Tolls collected at each bridge would be used to repair and upgrade the specific location.

RIDOT is accepting public comment through March 1 on a plan to increase the toll on a newly installed gantry at the Oxford Street Bridge in Providence, a bridge crossing Interstate 95. The original toll for the bridge was set at $2.25 per trip; however, RIDOT is studying the cost-benefit ratio of doubling the rate to $4.50. RIDOT representatives requesting comment on the proposed increase claim the increase is really no increase at all; it is simply an effort to maintain the revenue forecast from the 14 gantries included in the original tolling proposal.

Currently, Rhode Island has constructed toll gantries at six of the originally planned locations; however, as the program has moved forward, two locations have been temporarily or permanently delayed. Rather than adjusting anticipated total revenue based on 12 locations, Gov. Gina Raimondo has instead directed RIDOT officials to study and request rate hikes at specific bridges. The toll hikes will allow Rhode Island to collect the same $45 million forecast from the 14 original gantries. This new twist on a toll program already challenged as unconstitutional by the American Trucking Associations, and one which an appellate court has ruled Rhode Island must face in a lawsuit, is leading the trucking industry and toll opposition to question RIDOT’s language in press releases and discussions on the issue.

Chris Maxwell, president of the Rhode Island Trucking Association, said, “This should serve to reinforce concerns over the unbridled power and discretion given to RIDOT and further feeds the suspicion and skepticism of Rhode Island’s business owners about the end game of this scheme.”

Maxwell’s comments come on the heels of an already approved increased toll rate at another location in Providence. The Route 6 bridge over the Woonasquatucket River was increased from $2.00 to $5.00 last fall.

Maxwell also expressed concern about changing the still new tolls program when original approval was based on environmental impact studies. “From a legal standpoint,” he said, “these ‘on the fly’ changes would seem to undermine and violate the purpose and extent of the environmental impact assessments.”
Other opponents to the Oxford Street bridge toll increase note that the bridge does not fall into the criteria RIDOT deemed as structurally deficient, meaning revenue from the toll would be used at other locations, a provision not included in the tolling plan.

From RIDOT’s perspective, not only is the proposed toll rate increase not really an increase, it is also going to save the state money. RIDOT Director Peter Alviti said that the infrastructure costs of eliminating two planned toll locations will result in lower implementation costs.

“Our thinking is we’ll forgo building [a gantry] at the viaduct in Providence, or at least while the viaduct is being built,” Alviti said on WPRO radio. “We’ll assign the toll amount we were going to collect there to the next nearest location, which is Oxford Street.”

Chris Maxwell believes he has a full understanding of RIDOT’s intent. “[They] deliberately chose the most densely traveled tool location in the who scheme to further their insatiable appetite to soak businesses, consumers, and taxpayers,” he said in an interview with Transport Topics.

RIDOT is justifying its proposed action based on the original toll proposal’s expectation of generating $45 million in revenue. In any event, Peter Alviti says, truckers traveling I-95 through Rhode Island will still be paying $20.00 per trip.

When is an increase not an increase? It depends on what your definition of increase is. For those wanting to comment, emails can be sent to Dot.BridgeRepairTolls@dot.ri.gov or comments can be submitted in writing to Jay McGinn, P.E., Project Manager II RIDOT, 2 Capitol Hill, Providence RI 02903. Following cutoff date for comments on March 1, the new rate will be implemented on March 5.

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