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Missouri audit calls out HELP’s work with trucking company

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri auditor said April 26 that she’s turning over records to authorities after her office found evidence of conflicts of interests between state agencies and a trucking technology company.

The State Highway Patrol and Missouri Department of Transportation are under scrutiny because officials at the agencies had served on the board of a company that for years received the only state contract to provide technology allowing truckers to bypass Missouri weigh stations.

Democratic Auditor Nicole Galloway said findings in the audit show state officials gave preferential treatment to the nonprofit HELP Inc. over its competitor, Drivewyze.

She said the office found potential violations of state conflict-of-interest and financial-reporting laws and turned over documents to the FBI and Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley, whose office is investigating.

“What we have here really is a breach of public trust and a clear conflict of interest,” Galloway said.

In responses included in the audit, the agencies said they withdrew members from HELP Inc.’s board, changed the process used for picking contractors and partnered with Drivewyze. The Transportation Department also later found an employee’s related actions warranted discipline and updated internal conflict-of-interest policies.

Missouri contracted with HELP Inc. starting in 2002, when it was the only company that could provide the weigh-station technology.

“HELP Inc. has been assured by the auditor’s office on telephone calls and in writing that HELP is not a subject of the audit. HELP is a non-profit public-private partnership which requires oversight by a board of directors,” HELP Chief Executive Officer Karen Rasmussen told The Trucker. “The HELP board of directors is comprised of both public and private representatives which helps ensure the PrePass program meets the needs of both government and industry. Each state determines its participation in the program, including representation on the board. HELP adheres to a strict conflict of interest policy that is fully compliant with IRS regulations, and has offered to assist Missouri agencies with information if requested.”

Friction started when Drivewyze contracted with the state in 2014 for a pilot program to provide similar services. Emails included in the audit show HELP Inc. and top state officials at both the Highway Patrol and Transportation Department coordinated to promote HELP Inc. as Drivewyze tried to compete for state work.

In one email, Rasmussen forwarded talking points touting the company to then-Maj. Bret Johnson of the Highway Patrol in November 2013. Johnson, who later became colonel, responded that “this issue is not going anywhere if I can help it.” Rasmussen the next day sent Johnson an email with information to use against Drivewyze.

The Highway Patrol canceled the pilot program with Drivewyze in August 2016, primarily citing concerns that the company did not provide weighing data. But the initial agreement between the state and Drivewyze did not allow it to install the equipment needed to gather that data.

Drivewyze President and CEO Brian Heath said since Drivewyze was launched in 2012 the company has had a vision of helping create a safe and efficient commercial vehicle transportation system with zero crashes and zero fatalities.

“Our mission has been to revolutionize the delivery of highway safety and transportation management through world-class products, systems and services,” Heath told The Trucker. This includes our weigh station bypass service, PreClear, which is delivered through public-private partnerships with 46 agencies in 43 states at no cost to state governments. Drivewyze has always believed in partnerships without compromise where our platform is used by state agencies to deliver safety-first weigh station bypass services. Bypass programs are one of the most successful voluntary compliance models in the transportation industry, incentivizing carriers to maintain or improve safety and compliance in exchange for bypass privileges that reduce delays and congestion, and reward drivers who only get paid when the wheels are turning. Drivewyze is built on ethics, trust and transparency.  Our program paves the way for future connected truck innovations to improve highway safety and efficiency.

“Despite  Galloway’s report, which raises serious legal concerns about the activities of those who interfered and colluded to favor HELP Inc.’s position in Missouri, Drivewyze today enjoys a strong and successful partnership with both the Missouri Department of Transportation and Missouri State Highway Patrol. These respected organizations share the same vision we have toward a safe and efficient transportation system.  We look forward to announcing the activation of our first sites and restoring bypass services in Missouri for our customers in the coming weeks.”

The Highway Patrol backtracked shortly after that, reopening the contract process and later awarding contracts to both companies in April 2017.

Other concerns cited in the audit include work by state officials to promote HELP Inc. to Texas, Kansas and Minnesota and discourage peer agencies from working with Drivewyze and other competitors, failure to publicly report membership on the nonprofit’s board and expenses paid by the company, and a revolving door of state officials who later went to work for HELP Inc. and then continued to work with former co-workers in Missouri government.

Missouri law bans former state staffers from working to influence the agency they worked at for a year after they leave.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Nation

9 semis involved in accident on I-80 in Nebraska

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Of the 30 crashes reported to the Nebraska State Patrol Wednesday morning, the biggest took place near Aurora, Nebraska where 11 vehicles, nine of the big rigs, were involved in a large-scale accident on Interstate 80 (Courtesy: NEBRASKA STATE PATROL)

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — At least three people were injured in a large-scale accident on Interstate 80 Wednesday morning that involved nine semi-trucks and two passenger vehicles, The Grand Island Independent reported Thursday.

The vehicles were involved in multiple crashes on I-80 between Giltner and Aurora.

The paper’s report said five vehicles took part in a chain-reaction crash and that because of the pileup, I-80 was closed to eastbound traffic for about three hours while emergency crews worked at the scene and cleared the road.

Weather conditions were a factor in the crashes.

The paper said that at about 9:10 a.m., Hamilton County received a 911 call that two semi-tractor/trailers had crashed and jackknifed, blocking eastbound traffic near mile marker 328. As troopers and officers were en route to the scene, additional vehicles became involved in a chain-reaction crash. The first crash scene involved four semis and one passenger vehicle, a Jeep Cherokee.

After the initial incident, a pair of semis that were traveling together came upon the scene and were unable to stop. One struck the other, pushing it into the Jeep Cherokee.

Both occupants of the Cherokee were transported to the hospital in Aurora, but the passenger, Jason Palmer, 29, of Indiana, was flown to Kearney with life-threatening injuries. The driver was evaluated and has been released from the hospital.

One of the semi drivers, Jeffrey Clark, 56, of Colorado, was also transported to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

The paper reported that as traffic was stopped for the first crash scene, another semi jackknifed while attempting to avoid the stopped traffic. Moments later, another crash occurred a short distance to the west involving two more semis and a minivan. No injuries were reported in those crashes.

In total, there were nine semis and two passenger vehicles involved in the incidents near mile marker 328.

The State Patrol said within 24 hours after the storm began, troopers handled 166 motorist assists, responded to 30 crashes and assisted other agencies with 17 incidents. Motorist assists can include slide-offs, flat tires, etc.

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The Nation

White House ends California talks on mileage standards

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Democratic Sen. Tom Carper said the Trump administration's negotiations with the State of California over fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards have been "superficial and not robust at best, or duplicitous and designed to fail at worst." (Courtesy: U.S. Senate)

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration broke off vehicle mileage standards talks with California on Thursday, moving the two closer to a possible court battle that threatens to unsettle the auto industry.

The White House said in a statement that the administration, which wants to freeze mileage standards, would now move unilaterally to “finalize a rule later this year with the goal of promoting safer, cleaner, and more affordable vehicles.”

California officials and the Trump administration each accused the other of failing to present any good compromise proposal in the mileage dispute, which comes as President Donald Trump feuds with the Democrat-led state over his proposed border wall and his threats to take back federal money.

The administration announced last year it wanted to freeze what would have been tougher, Obama-era mileage standards for cars and light trucks. It would be one of a series of rollbacks targeting Obama administration efforts against pollution and climate change.

Under the administration proposal, the standards would be frozen after slightly tougher 2020 levels go into effect, eliminating 10 miles per gallon of improvement to a fleet average of 36 miles per gallon in 2025.

As part of the proposed mileage freeze, the administration threatened to revoke California’s legal authority to set its own, tougher mileage standards, a waiver granted that state decades ago to help it deal with its punishing smog. About a dozen states follow California’s mileage standards.

Lawmakers and automakers have urged the two sides to settle, warning that a split could divide the auto market, bring years of court battles and raise costs for automakers.

“This administration’s negotiations with the State of California over fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards have been superficial and not robust at best, or duplicitous and designed to fail at worst,” Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, the top Democrat in the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement late Wednesday, as the formal negotiations breakdown loomed.

“Litigation is not the best option here. It wastes time, money, creates uncertainty for American automakers, and harms the environment,” Carper said.

California officials say the administration never offered any compromise and that it broke off any contacts around December.

“We concluded at that point that they were never serious about negotiating, and their public comments about California since then seem to underscore that point,” said Stanley Young, spokesman for the state’s air board.

It’s the latest shot by the White House in its escalating feud with California. The Trump administration earlier in the week said it planned to cancel nearly $1 billion for California’s high-speed rail project and would seek the return of $2.5 billion more. Gov. Gavin Newsom said it was political retribution for the state’s role in leading a 16-state lawsuit against Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to get funds for his proposed wall at the southern border.

Since it takes several years to design vehicles, automakers have been planning to meet higher mileage requirements under Obama-era standards, as well as those in other countries.

For now, “essentially the industry is ignoring what Trump wants to do,” auto-industry analyst Sam Abuelsamid of Navigant Research said. “We know at least until this thing gets settled in the courts, we have to deal with California and the other states and have product that can sell there as well as products that can sell overseas.”

 

 

 

 

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Ohio governor’s administration proposes gas tax increase

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Ohio's Department of Transportation director, Jack Marchbanks, introduced the governor's $7.43 billion transportation budget proposal to the House Finance Committee. (Courtesy: OHIO DOT)

CINCINNATI — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s administration on Thursday recommended increasing the state gas tax by 18 cents a gallon beginning July 1 and annually adjusting that tax for inflation to provide sufficient funding for maintenance of roads and bridges.

Ohio’s Department of Transportation director, Jack Marchbanks, introduced the governor’s $7.43 billion transportation budget proposal to the House Finance Committee. The gas tax included in the two-year budget would be adjusted annually with the consumer price index to ensure sufficient funding going forward, Marchbanks said.

He said revenue raised the first year, by increasing the current 28-cent tax to 46 cents, equates to roughly $1.2 billion and will be split between the department and local governments.

Marchbanks told legislators that without more revenue in the face of the “impending transportation crisis,” there will be no funds for any highway improvement projects in the state and roads will deteriorate. Statistics show that deteriorating road conditions lead to more crashes, which lead to more fatalities, he said.

“Governor DeWine understands that maintaining the integrity of our roads and bridges is not only important to our economy; it is important to the health and welfare of our citizens,” Marchbanks said.

If the Legislature approves the recommendations, the proposal would provide the department in fiscal year 2020 with $750 million additional dollars in revenue to pave roads, fix guardrails, fill potholes, clear snow and ice, maintain bridges, and improve safety, Marchbanks told the committee. He said it also will provide local governments with a significant increase in the funding, including $1.6 million for every county in the state.

Marchbanks has previously said that contracts for road maintenance that totaled $2.4 billion in 2014 may drop to $1.5 billion in 2020, and a $1 billion gap remains in the department budget.

A transportation crisis is looming despite “all of ODOT’s multi-million dollar cost-saving efforts to make our agency leaner and more efficient,” he told committee members Thursday.

The department realizes that asking Ohioans to pay higher fees for roadway use is “no small task,” but hopes that most will understand the importance of responsible and sufficient transportation funding, the director said.

The Columbus Dispatch reported that Tom Balzer, president of the Ohio Trucking Association, and Grace Gallucci, president of the Ohio Association of Regional Councils, commented on a potential tax increase in testimony to legislators this week.

Balzer said that the state and local governments have immediate transportation needs, and the gas tax raises immediate revenue.

Gallucci pointed out that while questions remain about whether the gas tax is the fairest way to assess users of Ohio roads, it is a way to get needed money right away.

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