Tag 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.
Continue reading

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.

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.
Continue reading

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.

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.”
Continue reading

‘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