Category Archives: transportation

TDOT uses fed money to put 21 more HELP trucks on the road

News release from Tennessee Department of Transportation
NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Transportation’s popular HELP program is growing. TDOT was awarded a federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grant that will allow the department to add more HELP Operators and trucks, as well as expand the routes of the HELP program in West, Middle, and East Tennessee.

“In the 15 plus years our HELP trucks have been on the road, they have proven to be an invaluable resource for TDOT, other first responders, and the traveling public,” TDOT Commissioner John Schroer said. “Expanding the program will help us maximize the efficiency of our transportation system and better serve the citizens of our state.”
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Cohen bill calls for reporting all DUI arrests to NCIC

News release from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Congressman Steve Chabot (R-OH) today introduced the bipartisan DUI Reporting Act of 2016. This bill would close a reporting loophole that inadvertently enables repeat DUI offenders to be tried more leniently as first time offenders. The DUI Reporting Act would require, as a condition of full Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne JAG) funding, that DUI arrests are reported to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), the national crime database that is made instantly available to police right from their patrol cars, so repeat offenders can be charged appropriately.

“It is shameful that all DUI arrests are not reported to the national crime database,” said Congressman Cohen. “The consequences of this lack of reporting can prove life-threatening. Last year there was a tragic accident just outside of Memphis. Two teenage girls on their way to a vacation were killed around 6:30 a.m. when the car in which they were being driven was struck by a drunk driver who had accrued seven DUI charges since 2008 but had been allowed to plead guilty five times to a first-offense DUI. This story broke my heart, and I believe the hearts of everyone in the Mid-South. Police need access to this information to get drunk drivers off the road, and repeat offenders need to be charged appropriately.”
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Mother of school bus wreck victim ‘at peace’ with enactment of new law

From the News Sentinel:
The school bus crash that took three lives in Knoxville helped bring a new law banning use of electronic devices by school bus drivers.

“It makes me feel … at peace,” said Sharon Glasper of the new law. Her 7-year-old daughter, Seraya, died in the Dec. 2, 2014 Knox County Schools bus crash that killed another student and a teacher’s assistant.

Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law Thursday the bill that increases the fine 20-fold and added jail time for texting while driving a school bus with students on board.

“Texting and driving is a very serious matter,” Glasper said Friday.

James Davenport, 48, of Mascot, was hauling 22 children on a bus from Chilhowee Intermediate School on that day in 2014 that Seraya died. Knoxville police said Davenport, who has since died, was texting while driving.

Davenport’s bus 44 veered across multiple lanes of traffic and slammed into bus 57 that carried 18 Sunnyview Primary School students and a teacher’s aide. The impact ripped open the front of Davenport’s bus and toppled bus 57 onto its side.

Zykia Burns, 6, and teacher’s aide Kimberly Riddle, 46, also died in the crash.

“We put our kids in other people’s hands, riding the school bus,” Glasper said. “You wouldn’t ever imagine that your kid won’t come back.”

Note: The bill is SB1596, sponsored by Sen. Becky Massey and Rep. Eddie Smith, both Knoxville Republicans.

‘Bike trail bill’ taken off the legislative road

A controversial legislative bill restricting Tennessee cities and counties’ use of gas taxes for parks, greenways, bike lanes and similar infrastructure is dead for the year, reports the Times-Free Press.

Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, confirmed he took the bill off notice (Thursday) after it became clear the Senate Finance Committee wouldn’t proceed with the companion measure (SB1716) sponsored by Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga.

The bill drew opposition from biking enthusiasts as well as concerns from at least some cities.

“It got pulled in the Senate so there’s no reason to run it,” Carter said.

…”What it does is it says here’s what we’re going to spend your gas tax money on. So the next year when the gas tax bill runs, people can decide ‘I want to raise my money for this purpose or for this purpose.’ And they can decide.

“It’s actually an honesty in government bill, which is revolutionary and would be very difficult to pass.”

Bike Walk, an advocacy group, mobilized members to oppose the legislation. The bill was amended substantially and provided a number of exceptions. For example, one provision would have let local governments continue to use fuel tax revenues for bike lanes and sidewalks on roads with posted speed limits under 35 miles per hours. But it required an engineering study.

‘Slowpoke bill’ goes to the governor

The state Senate gave final legislative approval Monday to the so-called “slowpoke” bill, prohibiting driving — except for passing — in the left lane of highways with at least three lanes in each direction, with certain exceptions.

Further from the News Sentinel:

The bill won Senate approval 21-7, despite arguments that drivers already can be charged with impeding traffic in such situations. It won House approval 69-13 on March 7 and now goes to the governor, who’s likely to sign it into law.

Issuing tickets will be up to the discretion of state troopers and police officers. A violation will be a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of only $50.

Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, the bill’s Senate sponsor, said the bill applies only to highways with six or more lanes. “This is to cut down on road rage. A lot of people pull in the left-hand lane and just stay there. People pull up behind them and it causes traffic to line up. This bill is an effort to keep people out of the left-hand lane on six-lane highways.”

The law won’t apply in these circumstances: when the volume of traffic doesn’t permit safe merging into a non-passing lane; when inclement weather or a traffic control device makes it necessary to drive in the passing lane; when obstructions or hazards exist in a non-passing lane; when avoiding traffic moving onto the highway from a merging lane; when highway design makes it necessary to drive in the passing lane to exit or turn left; to emergency vehicles engaged in official duties, or to vehicles engaged in highway maintenance and construction.

Following ‘sexist’ flap, Haslam erases ‘governor’ from agency title

Gov. Bill Haslam has changed the name of the Governor’s Highway Safety Office, which got a fair amount of negative publicity last year, to the Tennessee Highway Safety Office through an executive order. The order also transfers oversight of the agency from the Department of Transportation to the Department of Homeland Security.

Executive Order No. 3, signed March 29 and effective April 1, is HERE.

Further from a Tennessean report on the move that gives some of the recent history of the former Governors Highway Safety Office:

The highway safety office generated controversy last year after launching a campaign that featured what some called a sexist approach to encouraging young men not to drive under the influence. The campaign used coasters and fliers with slogans designed to reach the “young male demographic,” the agency’s director Kendell Poole told The Tennessean at the time.

One version of drink coasters said, “Buy a drink for a marginally good-looking girl, only to find out she’s chatty, clingy and your boss’s daughter.”

A flier read, “After a few drinks the girls look hotter and the music sounds better. Just remember: If your judgement is impaired, so is your driving.”

Another aspect of the campaign mimicked graffiti found on the inside of a bathroom stall using a section of the highway safety office’s website.

The “Legends of the Stall” portion of the website featured behaviors such as binge drinking, promiscuity and cleaning up vomit with a cat. The website became inactive after The Tennessean initially reported about the campaign last July.

TDOT issues 3-year, $2B road project list

News release from state Department of Transportation
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer today released TDOT’s annual three year transportation program, featuring approximately $2 billion in infrastructure investments for 79 individual project phases in 42 counties, as well as 15 statewide programs.

The three-year program continues the state’s focus on providing a high quality state transportation network that is safe and reliable and supports Tennessee’s economic development efforts. New federal transportation funding through the FAST Act federal legislation includes a roughly two percent increase for FY 2017 over FY 2016’s funding. The FAST Act also provides some one-time flexibility that allows TDOT to tap into an additional $147 million in federal money.

These increases combined with the $100 million repayment to the highway fund in the Haslam administration’s proposed FY 16-17 budget will give the department a somewhat larger building program in the upcoming fiscal year – an estimated $965 million in FY 2017, compared to $660 million in FY 2016. Continue reading

Senate panel kills previously-passed child safety seat bill

By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The state House Transportation Committee on Tuesday voted to kill a bill seeking to raise the mandatory age for toddlers to ride in rear-facing car seats from 1 to 2.

Democratic Rep. John Ray Clemmons of Nashville said his bill (HB1468) was aimed at bringing Tennessee up to date with recommendations of physicians and auto manufacturers, and ensuring that “kids up to the age of 2 — whose necks and bones have not fully developed — are protected.”

Rhonda Phillippi,, the executive director of Tennessee Emergency Medical Services for Children, told the committee that data indicates that children under age 2 are 75 percent safer in rear-facing seats.

“Having the seat backward makes the crash forces go across the back of the car seat, instead of the soft tissues of the child and their underdeveloped bone structure,” she said.

But the panel voted 9-8 to study the issue after the Legislature adjourns for the year, ending the progress of a bill that just weeks ago was poised for Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature.
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Survey: Nashville is congested: Knoxville is not

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A new survey says Nashville has some of the biggest traffic snarls in the nation and the congestion is only getting worse. Knoxville, however, was ranked as having one of the smoothest commutes in major cities in the country. The survey was conducted by TomTom, the technology company that makes GPS-navigation devices.

The survey ranked Nashville as the 19th most congested city in America, and showed a 2 percent increase in congestion since 2015. Los Angeles was ranked No. 1 in terms of traffic snarls.

Memphis was ranked No. 41.

The report found that Knoxville drivers spent less time in traffic jams than any of the 71 U.S. cities that were ranked in TomTom’s Annual Traffic Index, and congestion had gone down by 2 percent in the last year.

House panel drives past bicycle advocates

A bill to block use of gas tax funds for bike and pedestrian projects won approval of the House Transportation Committee Tuesday, reports the Times-Free Press.

The committee voted 8-6 in favor of House Bill 1650, despite the impassioned pleas of bicycling advocates who made their case before the panel.

The bill, which would greatly restrict the use of gas tax revenue in the development of bicycle lanes, also was addressed by the Senate Finance, Ways and Means committee on Tuesday.

That committee chose to roll the bill another week to give its members ample time to evaluate the bill, which came with a negative recommendation from a Senate subcommittee.

“I am here to urge you today to heed the recommendation of your colleagues and oppose this dangerous legislation,” Bike Walk Tennessee President Anthony Siracusa told the Senate committee. “We here in Tennessee will soon have the unenviable task of deciding whether to raise the state gas tax, and my primary point here today is that this issue of how we fund biking and walking in our great state should be part of this larger discussion of transportation in Tennessee, and not dealt with piecemeal in a small, single bill.”

Senate sponsor Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, attributed the bill’s negative recommendation to himself for not properly articulating its purpose to the subcommittee two weeks before.

Hours later, Siracusa and Bike Walk Tennessee executive director Matt Farr sat before the House transportation committee to again make a case against the legislation.

They were met with an aggressive defense of the bill by several committee members before the bill ultimately advanced to the finance committee, which House sponsor Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, has said will be a formality since an amended version of the bill has no fiscal note.