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Road crew staffing spotlighted in Kansas budget debate

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In this photo from January 31, Jacob Woerner, a Kansas Department of Transportation equipment operator and maintenance worker, repairs a highway delineator on Interstate 70 west of Topeka, Kansas. Delineators mark the side of a highway for motorists at night and during storms so that they don’t go off a road’s shoulder, and Woerner says, “There’s quite a bit of work that we do that people don’t notice.” (Associated Press: JOHN HANNA)

TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas has trouble keeping road equipment operators from leaving for other, better-paying jobs — so much so that supervisors worry about being able to cobble together crews to clear snow after blizzards and to fill potholes quickly.

For Department of Transportation leaders, the 100 percent annual turnover rate among entry-level equipment operators signals a problem that requires an immediate solution. For new Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, the staffing woes are a prime example of the worse-than-expected problems she says she found as she was preparing to take office last month.

Like many funding questions, it’s a Rorschach test, viewed as more or less important based on an official’s overall philosophy of government.

Kelly says it’s part of an overarching message that state government might take years to recover from damage caused by past Republican tax-cutting policies. But some Republican legislators are skeptical that KDOT faces a crisis and think Kelly is overstating problems to push the GOP-controlled Legislature into higher spending.

“We probably have a lot of work to do, but is it in as bad a shape as she’s alleging? No,” Sen. Richard Hilderbrand, a conservative Galena Republican.

The conflicting agendas leave KDOT workers and supervisors with the daily chore of filling out crews to fix potholes, repair or replace signs, pick up trash and clear highways. KDOT says it needs almost 1,200 operators to drive trucks; 640 of the jobs are filled. In Topeka, supervisor Mike Daniel is supposed to have 12 workers and has seven, with three still training to operate equipment.

“It’s just a constant trying to catch up,” said Daniel, who has worked for KDOT for 36 years. “It has gotten progressively worse, probably, in the past five to eight years.”

Kansas has had a national reputation for good highways because of its commitment to big, multi-year transportation programs since the late 1980s.

The libertarian Reason Foundation has consistently rated the Kansas system as one of the nation’s best — ranking it 2nd in 2018. Republicans have cited its reports to counter criticism that GOP officials have allowed the state’s roads fall into disrepair.

Other ratings are not as generous. The American Society of Civil Engineers said in a report last year that Kansas had consistently kept 80 percent of its roads in good condition for two decades but still gave its highway system a C-minus grade, partly over funding concerns. There’s bipartisan agreement that funding for highway programs has been shorted too much over the past decade.

The state started a 10-year transportation program in 2010 meant to tackle safety issues and modernize bottlenecked stretches. But the program became “the Bank of KDOT,” with nearly $2.5 billion diverted to other parts of state government to close budget shortfalls, almost two-thirds of the amount in the last four years.

Legislators of all political philosophies have decried the continued diversion of transportation funds, and Kelly said while running for governor last year that the state had to stop the practice.

But to reach her top goals of boosting spending on public schools and expanding state Medicaid health coverage for the needy, she’s not proposing to end the siphoning off of highway funds immediately. Her proposed spending blueprint for the next fiscal year still diverts $369 million, and her stated goal is end the practice by 2023.

Kelly raised KDOT’s staffing as an issue even before taking office. Pay is a big issue. Other parts of state government have similar concerns: Prisons have trouble keeping uniformed officers even after special efforts to boost salaries, and wages are a long-standing sore point in the court system.

KDOT promises untrained equipment operators that they’ll get commercial driver’s licenses within two months, but it starts them in metro areas at $13.33 an hour. After three years, a senior equipment operator would earn a little more than $14 an hour.

The city of Topeka just bumped its starting pay for street maintenance workers by nearly $2 an hour, to $15. Daniel said area contractors will pay laborers — who don’t need a commercial driver’s license — from $15 to $18 an hour.

“I’m really worried about churning people like we’re churning them,” said interim Transportation Secretary Julie Lorenz. “We currently have stuff cobbled together, and that’s not where we want to be.”

Rep. J.R. Claeys, a conservative Salina Republican who was chairman of a House budget committee on transportation funding for four years, questioned whether the department needs as many equipment operators as it says.

“I drive Kansas interstates frequently, and I know that they are doing an excellent job, (a) keeping the ditches mowed and (b) keeping our roads clear and safe,” said Claeys.

Story by John Hanna, Associated Press Political Writer

 

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Arizona lawmakers OK ban on cellphone use while driving

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Under the new law, police could issue warnings until 2021, when they could begin writing tickets carrying fines of $75 to $149 for a first offense and up to $250 for a second. (The Trucker file photo)

PHOENIX  — The small list of states that allow either texting while driving or hand-held cellphone use is shrinking after the Arizona House on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a cellphone use ban and sent it to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey for his expected signature.

Arizona, Missouri and Montana had been the only three states that hadn’t banned texting while driving. Arizona will join 16 others that bans all use of a hand-held cellphones while driving.

The 44-16 vote on the toughest of three proposals debated by House lawmakers Thursday comes after years of inaction by the Republican-controlled Legislature. The Senate earlier approved it on a 20-9 vote. Ducey has pledged to sign the measure, which takes effect in January 2021.

More than two dozen cities enacted local bans that will remain in effect until then.

The House rejected a weaker ban on cellphone use, but approved legislation that strengthens the state’s overarching distracted driving law on a 31-29 party line vote.

Bills to restrict phone use while driving have been introduced for a decade but haven’t advanced amid concerns by Republicans about creating a “nanny state” that overregulates behavior.

Supporters of the ban pointed to the death of a police officer in January after a distracted driver lost control and struck him on a Phoenix-area freeway. Relatives of Salt River tribal police officer Clayton Townsend and others who have died in distracted driving crashes gave emotional testimony, carrying photos of their loved ones around the Capitol.

The officer’s death gave the proposal inertia that hadn’t appeared despite tearful testimony in recent years by relatives of people killed in accidents caused by cellphone use, said Republican Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, who carried the measure with Rep. Noel Campbell.

The hand-held phone use ban bars drivers holding it unless the vehicle is stopped. Calls to 911 would be allowed. Police could issue warnings until 2021, when they could begin writing tickets carrying fines of $75 to $149 for a first offense and up to $250 for a second.

The second enacted proposal doesn’t explicitly ban texting, but rather outlaws any behavior that isn’t related to driving if it causes an “immediate hazard” or prevents the driver from controlling their vehicles.

Democrats opposed the distracted driving measure, saying it could lead to racial profiling by allowing officers to stop a driver on a pretext. But Republican Rep. John Kavanagh, a retired police officer, said a rogue officer can always find a reason to stop a driver.

Kavanagh said he supported both measures, because some distractions aren’t caused by cellphones and officers need the enforcement option.

“Cellphones so consume your consciousness that you don’t even realize how long it has your attentions,” he said. “So a cellphone bill will take care of that problem. But we need this bill too.”

Several lawmakers talked of deaths or serious injuries of their family members or friends. An emotional Republican Rep. Ben Toma recalled how his younger sister died years before cellphones became popular when a driver distracted by a newspaper hit her with his car.

“There is no doubt that being on your phone while driving can be a significant distraction,” Toma said. “But this is a much broader issue. If this bill does nothing more than save one life we should support it.”

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FMCSA reminds truckers drug, alcohol clearinghouse coming soon

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The clearinghouse will be a professional truck driver database that will serve as a centralized record of all failed drug or alcohol tests, whether from pre-employment screenings, post-crash tests or random. (©2019 FOTOSEARCH)

Remember two years ago, when it seemed like the entire trucking industry was counting down the days to the ELD deadline?

Well, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) wants drivers to be aware of another countdown happening right now, although with much less hoopla than the Great ELD Panic of ’17.

At the recent Mid-America Trucking Show, Joe DeLorenzo, FMCSA director of enforcement and compliance, gave a presentation to raise awareness about the soon-to-be launched federal CDL Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse.

Mandated as part of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, or MAP-21, in 2012, the same piece of legislation that bore the ELD mandate, the drug and alcohol clearinghouse is scheduled to launch January 6, 2020.

The clearinghouse will be a professional truck driver database that will serve as a centralized record of all failed drug or alcohol tests, whether from pre-employment screenings, post-crash tests or random. All refusals to take a drug or alcohol test will also be recorded.

“I came here with a bit of a mission on the drug and alcohol clearinghouse rule,” DeLorenzo said to the MATS audience. It has come to the agency’s attention the clearinghouse has been flying under the radar, a bit, and not enough drivers seem to know about it or they haven’t gotten a full explanation of what the clearinghouse will contain and what it will be used for.

DeLorenzo said drivers have said to him, “Well, I don’t do drugs, so I don’t have to worry about this.”

“Actually, that’s not the case,” DeLorenzo said. “Everybody needs to know about this and get going on it.”

Starting in January, carriers will be required to query the database as part of the new-driver hiring process to ensure that the candidate does not have any failed tests or refusals in the previous three years. Carriers can only gain access to a driver’s record and make the mandatory query with the consent of the driver, and the only way a driver can give that consent is to be registered in the clearinghouse.

So, technically, drivers are not going to be required to register in the clearinghouse, DeLorenzo said. However, if you ever want to get hired anywhere again you’ll have to be registered in the clearinghouse.

“If you’re just kind of staying where you’re at, no intention of leaving, or if you are working for yourself, or if you are nearing retirement, you may decide not to register,” he said. “But in an industry with 100%-plus turnover, I know people are always looking for a new job, a different job, a better job. Any driver who’s going to apply for a new job after this rule goes into effect is going to have to have an account and is going to have to be able to go in.”

DeLorenzo explained why the clearinghouse has been set up this way. Today, when someone applies for a job, they get tested as part of the process. They fail the test and the carrier doesn’t hire them. Three months later, they stay clean just long enough, the apply somewhere else and that company hires them, not knowing about the prior failure.

Starting January 6, carriers will be required to upload notices into the clearinghouse of all failed drug tests by drivers and driving applicants, as well as all refusals to test, as they occur.

The database is designed to go back three years. At first, employers will have to conduct both electronic queries within the clearinghouse and manual inquiries with previous employers to cover the preceding three years to meet the mandated hiring requirement. As of January 6, 2023, they will only need to check the clearinghouse.

Drivers’ records will only contain positive tests and refusals. When a prospective employer makes a query, they will be told if the record is clean. If there are entries, they will be able to get more details.

If a driver has a failed test, the database will also record whether that driver has completed the return-to-duty process.

Drivers will also be able to review their own records, DeLorenzo said, which is another incentive to register. If a driver finds an entry they wish to dispute, they can file a DataQ request to have it corrected.

The clearinghouse website is already up and running. Drivers can go to Clearinghouse.fmcsa.dot.gov to read about the clearinghouse and to register their email addresses for any updates. Actual registration is scheduled to begin in October.

DeLorenzo said he is hoping to raise more awareness about the clearinghouse now so they start registering in October instead of finding out the hard way come February when they try to apply for a job.

“What I’m trying to avoid, actually, is human nature, which is to wait until the very last minute.”

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Drivewyze completes Missouri weigh installations, now fully deployed with 19 locations

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Drivewyze President and CEO Brian Heath noted that Missouri is a centralized state in the U.S., home to major trucking lanes connecting the west and east coasts. (Courtesy: DRIVEWYZE )

501 drivewyze Missouri.doc

DALLAS — Drivewyze has completed its service site rollout in Missouri at all 19 weigh stations across the state. Drivewyze PreClear weigh station bypass is now operational at all Missouri locations, delivering weigh station bypass opportunities to its customers driving in the state.

“Our bypass service network is second to none in Missouri,” said Brian Heath, president and CEO of Drivewyze. “Drivewyze is the largest provider of weigh station bypass service by a factor of almost two — with more than 750 service sites in North America. By providing more bypass opportunities than our competitors, we enable our customers to earn a higher safety return on investment than anyone else in the industry. The time has never been better for carriers to adopt weigh station bypass, or switch away from transponder-based systems. Now, they can maximize our bypass services in Missouri and enjoy the same extended coverage of our transponder-free services offer across the country.”

The final four activated Missouri Drivewyze sites are located in Kearney (northbound), Platte City (northbound), and Willow Springs (both east and westbound). Kearney is on I-35, northeast of Kansas City (between Kansas City and Des Moines, Iowa); Platte City is on I-29, northwest of Kansas City (between KC and Omaha, Nebraska); and Willow Springs is on Highway 60/63, southeast of Springfield.

“Missouri is a centralized state in the U.S., home to major trucking lanes connecting the west and east coasts,” Heath said. “With hundreds of trucking companies based in the state, we are pleased to offer state-wide services to all carriers operating in Missouri, as well as those passing through. This is another step forward for Drivewyze — and our customers — and we look forward to continue revolutionizing the freight industry with world-class service and technology. More bypasses not only improve a carrier’s bottom line, it makes a positive impact on driver’s lives.”

Carriers can eliminate the cost and administration of traditional transponders with Drivewyze. The Drivewyze PreClear weigh station bypass service is integrated with existing in-cab equipment like electronic logging devices, smartphones, tablets and other in-cab telematics systems. Customers can now receive bypass opportunities in 42 states and two Canadian provinces.

The Drivewyze PreClear weigh station bypass application is available on a number of Drivewyze partner platforms, including Omnitracs, Orbcomm, PeopleNet, Transflo, Rand McNally, Zonar, Platform Science, ISSAC and Switchboard. The application is also available for drivers to download on Android and iOS-based tablets or smartphones.

Fleets can request a free weigh station activity report to help them determine how much time and money they could save by using Drivewyze PreClear.

Drivewyze comes with a free Weigh Station Heads-Up service for real-time notifications at more than 1,200 weigh stations and inspection sites nationwide.

To learn more about Drivewyze, please visit www.drivewyze.com. 8

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