Category Archives: transportation

Truck rules eased with gas pipeline shutdown

ATLANTA (AP) – The governors of three Southern states are lifting restrictions on the number of hours that truck drivers delivering fuel can work, hoping to prevent shortages in both states after the shutdown of a pipeline that spilled at least 252,000 gallons of gasoline in rural Alabama.

Governors can suspend federal transportation regulations during emergencies. (Note: Gov. Bill Haslam’s news release on his executive order is HERE.)

Colonial Pipeline has said most of the leaked gasoline is contained in a retention pond near the city of Helena and there’s no public safety concern. The spill was first detected on Sept. 9, but it’s not clear when it began.

The company increased its estimate of the spill’s size on Friday, saying it was between 252,000 and 336,000 gallons. Colonial doesn’t expect to fully reopen the pipeline until next week. The pipeline runs from Texas to New Jersey, supplying fuel to states in the Southeast and on the East Coast.

Colonial said that supply disruptions would be felt first in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina.
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Procedure set for special DUI fix session

The special session called by Gov. Bill Haslam to fix a $60 million foulup in the state’s drunken driving law will begin with state House and Senate floor sessions starting at 2 pm Monday and end at some point on Wednesday, according to officials.

Haslam, in his proclamation calling the session, limits action to revision a bill passed earlier in the year that changed the punishment for persons aged 18-21 for drunken driving and any related matters.

Federal officials have determined that the revision effectively raises the legal presumption of DUI for such persons from .02 blood alcohol content to .08 – meaning Tennessee is not in compliance with federal law mandating a .02 threshold and thus making subject to a $60 million reduction in federal highway funding starting Oct. 1.

Still, the fix bill – expected to be approved without opposition (though perhaps with a lot of speeches) must pass on three separate readings on different days to comply with the state constitution. Kara Owen, spokeswoman for House Speaker Beth Harwell, says plans call for the fix bill to be introduced and approved on first reading Monday and on second reading Tuesday in a session that will begin – at least in the House – at 10 am.
Committees will meet later in the day Tuesday to approve the measure. Presuming the procedure will follow the same path as the original bill causing the problem, that in the House will mean the Criminal Justice Subcommittee and then the full committee, followed by the Budget Subcommittee of the House Finance Committee and then the full Finance committee plus the Calendar Committee.

In the Senate, the original bill (SB1317) went only through the Judiciary Committee, but likely will go to Finance as well in the special session since money is obviously involved. (The original fiscal note estimated a loss of just $16,500 in state revenue – well below the Senate’s $100,000 ‘sweeper’ standard for Finance referral; contrasting with the House’s “zero sweeper,” requiring all spending bills go through Finance.)

In regular session, rules call for delays after a bill clears committee before a floor vote is scheduled that could put the final vote off until Thursday. But if those rules are suspended as expected – requiring a two-thirds majority vote – the final vote can be scheduled for Wednesday.

TN congressmen plead for $60M fed funding

All 11 members of Tennessee’s congressional delegation have signed a letter asking U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to help the state keep $60 million in highway funds that are in jeopardy because of a new state DUI law, reports Michael Collins.

“Based upon our review of both the state and federal laws and the purpose behind both laws, it seems that both the State of Tennessee and the federal government have the same objective of penalizing impaired driving and that the common sense thing to do is to resolve this matter promptly,” the lawmakers wrote. “We are available to assist in any way that would be helpful.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration informed the state last week it’s in danger of losing the highway money because of the DUI law passed earlier this year.

The law, which took effect July 1, changed the impaired-driver threshold from a blood alcohol content of 0.02 to a blood alcohol content of 0.08 for drivers between 18 and 20.

The change means the state is no longer in compliance with the federal zero tolerance law, which requires states to set 0.02 as the blood-alcohol level allowed for drivers under age 21.

As a result, federal transportation officials say they must withhold 8 percent of federal highway funding from the state. If the state is not in compliance by Oct. 1, it will forfeit $60 million in highway funding.

Tennessee argues it can enforce the 0.08 standard because another state law makes it illegal for anyone under age 21 to possess or consume any alcoholic beverage. Federal officials are expected to decide by Friday if that qualifies as compliance with the federal zero tolerance law.

If they decide it doesn’t, Gov. Bill Haslam would have to call the General Assembly into special session to repeal or modify the new DUI law or petition the federal government for a waiver until the Legislature begins its regular session next January.

“We hope you will work with Tennessee to find a solution that will allow our state to retain desperately needed highway funds,” the state’s congressional lawmakers said in their letter to Foxx.

New AG opinion: Cities not violating TN traffic camera law

Expanding on an opinion released in July, the Tennessee attorney general says cities that contract with red-light camera companies are not violating state law, reports the News Sentinel.

Attorney General Herbert Slatery, in his opinion Monday, said the state’s statute that requires a certified police officer determine whether laws were broken does not mean that others cannot examine video images. (Note: Full opinion HERE.)

“Vendors engaging in sorting or pre-screening of the video footage are not making a determination that a violation has occurred,” Slatery wrote. “Rather, they are simply ensuring that the law enforcement officers who make those determinations do so efficiently by reviewing only usable information.”

He concluded: “In short, the statute does not prevent a city from contracting with a private vendor to sort or screen the video information for footage that cannot form the basis for a citation.”

Knoxville earlier this month opted to extend its current red-light camera contract with Lasercraft Inc. for 60 days to give city staff time to study Slatery’s first ruling and wait for subsequent opinions. Continue reading

Special session to avoid $60M fed funding loss?

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee officials are scrambling to avoid losing $60 million in federal road funding because of a new state law that runs afoul of zero-tolerance standards for underage drivers who have been drinking.

Officials with the state Transportation Department in a teleconference Monday urged the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to hold off on a formal decision to cut the state’s road funding by 8 percent until after reviewing arguments that another state law should keep Tennessee in compliance.

The federal agency said it would rule on the state’s claim by the end of the week, TDOT spokeswoman B.J. Doughty said.

Federal guidelines require a strict 0.02 percent allowable blood alcohol content for drivers under the legal drinking age. The new Tennessee law raises that limit to 0.08 for 18- to 20-year-olds but also metes out the stronger penalties for offenders. Continue reading

Fed funding at risk under new DUI law for juveniles

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper on Friday criticized Tennessee Republicans for changes to the state’s underage drunken driving law that could lead to a loss of $60 million in federal highway funding.

Under the new law, which took effect on July 1, the allowable blood alcohol content for 18- to 20-year-old drivers was raised to 0.08 percent, but offenders now face the same level penalties as adult drivers convicted of drunken driving.

Federal guidelines suggest a strict 0.02 percent allowable blood alcohol content for drivers under the legal drinking age. The new Tennessee law splits this group into two: 16- and 17-year-olds are still subject to the 0.02 limit, while those 18-20 now have a higher allowable limit, but with the tougher punishments.

Cooper said the change runs afoul of federal standards for underage drivers, meaning that the state could stand to lose 8 percent of its federal highway funding, or $60 million per year.

“This must be a mistake,” Cooper said. “No one wants more drunk drivers on the road. State leaders should act immediately and comply with a zero tolerance policy.” Continue reading

TDOT worker killed in Crockett County

News release from Department of Transportation
CROCKETT COUNTY, Tenn. – The Tennessee Department of Transportation is mourning the loss of a worker fatally injured (Wednesday).

James “Pee Wee” Hopkins, an Operations Technician, was flagging traffic around a maintenance crew when he was struck by an oncoming vehicle. No other TDOT workers were injured. The crash is under investigation. Continue reading

TN seat belt use increases to 88.95 percent

News release from the governor’s Highway Safety Office
TENNESSEE – The Tennessee Highway Safety Office (THSO) announces a significant increase in overall seat belt usage across the State of Tennessee, compared to the previous year. In 2016, a statewide average of 88.95% of front-seat vehicle occupants were observed wearing seat belts during an annual roadside observational survey study conducted by the University of Tennessee Knoxville’s Center for Transportation Research (CTR). In 2015, Tennessee’s statewide seat belt usage reflected an average of 86.23%, according to CTR.
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Gas tax talk in Sen. Tracy’s GOP primary

Steve Lane believes the gas tax will emerge as a key election issue as he challenges state Sen. Jim Tracy in the August Republican primary for Senate District 14, according to the Daily News Journal.

“I oppose any gas tax increase,” said Lane of Murfreesboro, a candidate running in the Aug. 4 Republican primary against Tracy of Shelbyville and fellow challenger Matt Randolph of Ardmore.

The winner of the Republican primary, which starts with early voting Friday, will face Democratic candidate Gayle Jordan of Murfreesboro in the Nov. 8 election.

Randolph declined to comment for this story because he said he needed to research the gas tax issue.

A gas tax hike won’t affect the affluent who can afford new cars that are more fuel-efficient at the same level an increase will for a guy driving an old pickup truck, Lane said.

“Sen. Tracy supports it,” said Lane, who owns and operates a home construction business. “I think that’s one of the starkest differences. The people who can least afford it, the working class and the working poor, will have to shoulder the burden of the gas tax increase.”

Tracy, however, has said he wants more information about road needs and ways to pay for them before taking any positions on new gas taxes.

“I’m opposed to any kind of increase where we are today,” said Tracy, the Senate Transportation Committee chairman. “I signed a pledge last year that I was against the gasoline tax increase.”

…”I passed a bill that requires that all the money coming from the gasoline and diesel goes right into the transportation fund,” Tracy said. “It cannot be used in the general fund. It makes it against the law to do that.”

…But Lane worries that a TDOT study will lead to a recommended gas tax hike.

“I can’t remember seeing an elected official who is a true champion of the common man,” Lane said. “I’m a blue-collar guy. … My grandfather was a truck driver, and my dad was a truck driver. So opposing a gas tax increase is actually a fight for the working class.”

Note: A campaign finance snapshot in the District 14 GOP primary:

Tracy raised $88,450 in the last quarter, spent $38,315 and had $221,635 cash on hand July 1. Lane and Randolph both reported they had not raised or spent any money.

Holt says AG Slatery agrees with him on traffic camera companies violating TN law

News release from state Rep. Andy Holt (with the headline, ‘Attorney General Sides with Rep. Holt)
NASHVILLE, Thursday, July 07, 2016– Tennessee State Representative Andy Holt (R-Dresden) has been on a crusade against the use of photo-enforcement cameras for many years, citing that they are illegal and turn the American justice system on its head. Giving a boost to Holt’s argument, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery responded to a request by Holt to opine on whether or not out-of-state traffic camera companies contracted by Tennessee cities were in violation of state law on Wednesday afternoon.

(Note: The opinion is HERE.)

At the heart of Holt’s issue, is the fact that out-of-state photo-enforcement companies contracted throughout the state of Tennessee have utilized non-law enforcement employees to preliminarily review video footage of supposed traffic violations, and are then making determinations regarding whether or not a violation has occurred. The scrubbed footage is then sent back to local law enforcement agencies with violations that are simply rubber-stamped by a POST-certified officer. Local law enforcement agencies often claim that an officer “witnessed” the supposed violator and by placing their signature on the ticket claim to validate the supposed violation. For all practical purposes, actual law enforcement personnel have been removed from the current photo-enforcement process, with the single exception of simply placing the signature of an officer on each ticket that has already been processed by the employees of these private companies.
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