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Washington state proposal would remove ‘improved freight mobility’ from bill

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Proposal would remove ‘improved freight mobility’ from washington state’s transportation goals
Washington Trucking Association Executive Vice President Sheri Call told a Senate committee recently that the “importance of freight mobility for our roadways” should not be minimized. (iStock Photo)

SEATTLE — Washington state legislators are considering whether to remove “congestion relief” and “improved freight mobility” from their transportation goals, a departure from the American passion to expand highways.

House Bill 2688 would adopt seven goals – accessibility, safety, environment and climate, health and resilience, equity and environmental justice, preservation, and functionality. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) supports the proposal.

“Instead of continuing to build our roads where individual members come up with projects because there’s a congestion in their district, what we need to be doing, is we need to be looking at this more holistically,” sponsor Rep. Sharon Shewmake, D-Bellingham, testified in committee. “Accessibility is really what we want to get at.”

Her bill defines accessibility as “affordable access to the places and goods Washington residents, organizations and businesses need to live, work, study, play and pray,” by all modes of transportation. A Senate version of the bill was introduced by Rebecca Saldaña, D-Seattle.

Driver advocates say ditching “congestion relief” and “improved freight mobility,” which now appear under a “mobility” goal, might hamper road building.

“We can’t afford to minimize the importance of freight mobility for our roadways,” Washington Trucking Association Executive Vice President Sheri Call told a state Senate committee recently. “Washington must continue to deliver projects that provide quality of life benefits for all users of the highways in Washington, and keep our economy moving forward.”

WSDOT Secretary Roger Millar hopes to bring more attention to worn-out roads and bridges. Currently, just 8 cents of the 49.4-center-per-gallon state gasoline tax goes toward maintenance and preservation, he said.

The state borrows so heavily for big projects such as the Highway 99 tunnel, the Highway 520 floating bridge and the widening of I-90 at Snoqualmie Pass East, that bond debt is forecast to consume three-quarters of gasoline taxes by 2028.

The declining condition of state highways is “a glide path to failure,” Millar told lawmakers in mid-January.

“That is going to result in some kind of intervention by the federal government,” Millar continued. “We have 4,000 lane miles of pavement that are due for preservation this year; we have another 3,600 miles that are past due and 1,600 miles in the system that are rated as ‘poor.’ Our budget currently provides for repaving 750 lane miles a year.”

Only four of 100 steel bridges are being repainted on time, he said.

A few other states are questioning whether they should keep adding freeways.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared in January that his state is probably experiencing the “last major build-out of roads we’ll have in the state of Texas, even considering the fact that Texas is the fastest-growing state in America,” D Magazine reported.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation adopted what it called a holistic view in 2017, adding safety and environmental criteria.

Millar told a highway-officials’ convention in Spokane in 2018, “simply put, we cannot build our way out of congestion.”

He’s talking about the phenomenon known as induced demand. Freeway lanes eventually clog because people drive more or developers add housing and retail areas near interchanges. Lanes typically fill within two years, restoring a kind of traffic-delay equilibrium, said Todd Litman, founder of the Victoria Transportation Policy Institute in British Columbia.

As of yet, no state has frozen or canceled highway construction for the sake of reducing car dependency or greenhouse gases, according to Patrick McKenna, Missouri Department of Transportation director and president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

Environmental aims do limit highways in some communities, McKenna said, but money is a greater constraint. Missouri voters, for instance, have rejected measures to boost their 17-cent gas tax.

“At the practical level, the ability to fund these things is constricted,” he said. “We’ve had multiple decades of a public unwillingness to maintain the system in its current state, never mind expansions.”

Americans drove 3.3 trillion miles in 2018. Gasoline consumption rose for the seventh straight year, to 147 billion gallons, according to data from the Federal Highway Administration.

Seattle-area traffic remains the fifth worst in the nation, causing an average yearly delay of 138 hours per commuter, according to new rankings by the TomTom navigation company.

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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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The Nation

FMCSA final rule lowers annual registration costs for motor carriers

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truck driving down road
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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The Nation

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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