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Virginia governor, lawmakers back tolls for I-81 upgrades

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Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam calls Interstate 81 “unreliable.” He said he supports legislation to add tolls to the road to pay for the improvements. (Courtesy: STATE OF VIRGINIA)

RICHMOND, Va. — Tolls could soon be coming to Interstate 81 in Virginia.

Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam and Republican lawmakers said at a Capitol news conference Tuesday the highway is too often the scene of long delays because of crashes and a dedicated source of funding is urgently needed to make improvements.

The highway stretches 325 miles along the western part of the state and is heavily trafficked by tractor trailers. There are more than 2,000 crashes on the road each year, with more than a quarter involving heavy trucks. There are about 45 major crashes a year that take more than four hours to clear.

“Increasingly, I-81 is unreliable,” Northam said. “The road is a clear safety problem.”

Northam and lawmakers are backing a $2 billion plan that would widen the highway in some areas, lengthen merge lanes, and make other improvements designed to reduce the number of crashes by 450 a year.

The governor said he supports legislation to add tolls to the road to pay for the improvements. A proposal advanced by the Commonwealth Transportation Board would charge trucks 15 cents a mile and cars 7.5 cents a mile. That would be about $50 for trucks and $25 for cars making the entire 325-mile trip one way. The tolls would be cheaper at night and regular commuters in cars and small trucks could pay a $30 annual pass to avoid toll fees under the proposed plan.

Northam and lawmakers were quick to add they are still working on the specifics of toll pricing and are open to other ways of paying for the improvements, which could include raising regional sales and gas taxes along the I-81 corridor.

“I just want to see something done this year,” said Republican Del. Steve Landes.

Truckers and manufacturers said they would unfairly bear the brunt of paying for the highway’s improvement if tolls were added and said a gas tax increase was preferable.

“This is a litmus test for us,” said Virginia Manufacturers Association CEO Brett Vassey. “If you want more manufacturing, you’ll find an alternative funding other than tolling. If you want less manufacturing, put the tolls on 81.”

Dale Bennett, president of the Virginia Trucking Association, said he’s already spoken with truck drivers who plan to use other state roads that run parallel to the interstate in order to avoid tolls.

“They can’t absorb that cost,” Bennett said.

Both Vassey and Bennett questioned the state’s calculated economic benefits of using tolls, saying officials did not do enough to survey truck companies and other businesses based along the I-81 corridor.

State transportation officials said fewer crashes would shorten delays and lead to about $1.1 billion in lower trucking costs over a 40-year span.

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Bendix Spicer Bowling Green brake plant receives platinum wellness award

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Bendix Spicer Foundation Brake recently received a Platinum Award from the Worksite Wellness Council of Louisville. Left to right are Andria Keating, BSFB health and wellness coordinator; award presenter Jim Frazier, vice president of medical affairs for Norton Healthcare; and Matt Schwartz, chair of the Worksite Wellness Council of Louisville. (Courtesy: BENDIX SPICER FOUNDATION BRAKE)

ELYRIA, Ohio — Bendix Spicer Foundation Brake (BSFB) has always been committed to helping employees and families improve their health and wellness at work, at home and in retirement.

Through its efforts to continually improve its resources for employee health, the BSFB Manufacturing Plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky, recently received a Platinum Award from the Worksite Wellness Council of Louisville for exceptional commitment to employee well-being, integration of wellness into the workplace culture, and exemplary leadership in managing employee benefits.

The council’s annual conference, which took place last month, recognizes organizations in Kentucky that strive to create cultures of health through wellness policies and programs. Each employer is assessed according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Worksite Health ScoreCard, which helps organizations review their health promotion programs to find gaps and prioritize the prevention of chronic conditions.

To earn a Platinum Award, the highest distinction, employers must meet stringent requirements, such as demonstrating management support, program variety, and community engagement, and reaching targeted improvement levels. The recognition is often given to previous award recipients honored earlier at the bronze, silver or gold levels.

Thanks to its inventive health efforts, Bendix Spicer Foundation Brake received the top award as a first-time honoree, according to .

Among its contributing efforts, Bendix Spicer Foundation Brake was recognized for partnering with the Kentucky Cancer Program and the University of Kentucky’s Markey Cancer Center in an innovative workplace health initiative. The partnership received a grant to cover the cost of qualified employees’ lung health screenings and participation in the Kentucky Cancer Registry. In addition, the grant helped to provide educational posters, classes on screenings, and radon prevention programs.

“We are proud to continue Bendix’s long-standing commitment to the well-being of our employees,” said Andria Keating, health and wellness coordinator at the Bowling Green facility. “The rate of lung cancer in Kentucky is one of the highest in the United States. Through our partnerships with distinguished cancer centers in the state, we hope to give our employees the resources and education they need for early detection and prevention.”

In earning a Platinum Award, the company also scored with distinction on the CDC Worksite Health ScoreCard, based on the success of its well-rounded wellness efforts. Those efforts are driven by the Bendix Be Healthy program, aimed at making healthy living easier and more convenient for employees and their families by emphasizing prevention and early detection of health issues, and support of employees seeking care. Bendix Be Healthy focuses on biometric screenings, preventative screenings, health fairs, tobacco cessation, weight management, lifestyle changes, emotional well-being, and financial wellness.

The vibrant wellness program in place at the Bowling Green facility is part of an active, multifaceted, employee-focused company culture that combines opportunities to learn, grow, and participate in health and wellness, community volunteerism, and employee team-building activities.

 

 

 

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Woman charged with attempted murder after truck-driver fiancé fired

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Natalie Williams, 32, is facing attempted murder charges, police say, after allegedly shooting several times at her fiancé’s former employer and his family at a truck stop parking lot. (Photo courtesy: SLIDELL POLICE DEPARTMENT)

SLIDELL, La. — A 32-year-old woman was charged with attempted murder after a shooting incident at a truck stop on Friday that is believed to have occurred in reaction to the woman’s fiancé being fired from his job as a professional truck driver.

The incident occurred at a TravelCenters of America truck stop just off Interstate 10 in Slidell, about 3 miles northeast of Lake Pontchartrain.

According to local reports, Slidell Police said they received several 911 calls at about 2:30 p.m. about a woman shooting at people in the truck stop parking lot. When they arrived they quickly found Natalie Williams, a resident of nearby Mandeville, hiding in a wooded area near the truck stop.

Police also found a couple that told them Williams had shot at them and their 1-year-old son. According to the police report, the man told them that he owned a trucking company and he had met up with Williams and her fiancé in the rear parking lot at the truck stop, where he had fired Williams’ fiancé for poor job performance and informed them that he was evicting them from the 18-wheeler.

The man told police that Williams then went to the truck, got a gun and started shooting at him, then fired several shots into the cab of the truck he arrived in and in which his fiancé and the child were still seated.

Police said no one was injured in the shooting.

According to St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office records, Williams remains behind bars as of Tuesday, with bail set at $150,000.

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Michigan Democrat wants businesses, trucks to pay more for road repair

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Michigan House Minority Leader Christine Greig says new ideas need to be brought to the table for how to fund road repairs in the state. She and her colleagues have introduced a proposal that would increase corporate taxes and institute a 6-cents-a-mile tax on heavy trucks and a bridge toll on tractor trailers. (AP: David Eggert)

LANSING, Mich. — With state Republicans lawmakers firmly opposed to a 45-cents-a-gallon fuel tax hike, Democrats want businesses to do more to help fix the state’s roads.

A new $1.2 billion proposal from House Democrats would raise the state’s corporate tax, create a new 6-cents-a-mile tax for heavy trucks and charge bridge tolls to tractor trailers. It also includes portions of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s budget plan, such as raising taxes on certain businesses so they are taxed the same as traditional corporations and restoring tax breaks for pensioners.

House Minority Leader Christine Greig said Democrats agree with the Democratic governor’s call for $2.5 billion in new revenue and know that a fuel tax increase would likely be part of any final deal.

“We just felt it was important that we brought other ideas in since we haven’t seen anything other than a shell game and shifting around revenue from the Republicans, but yet they’ve said that they’re not going to support a 45-cent gas increase. So let’s put some new ideas on the table to get us to the $2.5 billion,” she said Friday.

By releasing the plan, Democrats risked looking like they oppose Whitmer’s fuel tax hike, which Republicans, who control the Legislature, have said is going nowhere and which Democrats have not introduced as legislation. Greig said Democrats are “100% supportive” of generating new revenue and their proposal is based on feedback from constituents.

“We just think that if you’re really struggling to a negotiation, that implies that you bring a bunch of different ideas and come up with a compromise,” she said.

Some in the business lobby have said raising gasoline and diesel taxes is simple and fair because everyone pays, including companies that move goods or have employees on the roads. But Greig said what they pay is not “proportionate.”

“To attract business, to attract talent, to keep our communities strong that support businesses, we have to have good roads and bridges,” she said, noting that businesses saw a $1 billion-plus tax cut under a 2011 overhaul enacted by Republicans. “Since that happened, we’ve seen our roads and infrastructure deteriorate. We’ve seen our ranking in schools drop nationally. So something is not right. To put this all on the backs of individuals is shortsighted.”

Increasing the 6% corporate income tax to 8.5% and raising taxes on flow-through entities, Greig said, would lead to businesses paying $800 million more annually — but still less than they were before the 2011 change. Assessing a vehicle-miles-traveled tax on the two heaviest classes of trucks would generate $390 million from those who cause the most road damage, she said, while the bridge tolls — based on a unique program in Rhode Island — would raise about $50 million.

Road-funding and budget negotiations are expected to extend into the summer as legislators scale back their voting days starting this coming week.

Greig urged the business community to “come to the table and say, ‘We will accept contributing more directly to the solution.’”

Republicans and business groups oppose raising business taxes, however, saying lower taxes help the economy. To soften the impact of a 45-cent gas tax increase by easing the tax burden on seniors, Whitmer has proposed boosting taxes on 150,000 corporations, partnerships and limited liability companies whose income is passed through to the entities’ owners and taxed at the personal rate of 4.25 percent. The Senate’s Republican leader has called it “stupid.”

So far, the main component to emerge from Republicans’ road-funding work is a budget plan in the House that would ultimately ensure $850 million in sales tax being collected at the pump goes to roads, without raising taxes. The revenue now primarily is dedicated to schools and municipalities.

Greig said it is “confusing” that a portion of fuel taxes funds other priorities and she has no problem “cleaning up revenue streams.” But new revenue should be generated to replace it, she said.

“They’re not doing that. That’s the problem,” she said. “We’re basically doing it on the backs of local governments and kids, frankly.”

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