Iowa DOT adds new colors to 511 road conditions map

iowa road conditions mapThe Iowa Department of Transportation has made some color changes to its 511 road conditions map.

Purple will now mean that ”travel is not advised” and light blue will be used to show “wet” conditions. Below is what all of the colors will mean on the Iowa conditions map.

Dry = green.
Wet = light blue.
Partially covered = blue.
Completely covered = pink.
Travel not advised = purple.
Closed = red.

“Each year we try to improve the system by listening to what our customers tell us and making adjustments. Last year there was some confusion about the ‘travel not advised’ statement. This year we are dedicating a road color (purple) on the map to ‘travel not advised’ to assure people can clearly see the seriousness of the situation on the roadway. Customers also wanted to know how much snow and ice was on the pavement. That is now included in the comments when a road is designated as ‘travel not advised,’” said Sinclair Stolle, Iowa DOT 511 administrator.

MnDOT up a creek without a paddle due to mine expansion

A billboard on Highway 53 that's part of a campaign against relocation. Photo: Jeff Wheeler/StarTribune

A billboard on Highway 53 that’s part of a campaign against relocation. Photo: Jeff Wheeler/StarTribune

 

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) is now paying for a decision it made nearly a half century ago. Back then, MnDOT decided to save some time and money by cutting a deal with the local mining companies to lease the stretch of land leading into Virginia instead of buying it outright.

For five decades it was a great deal for MnDOT. The state got free use of the land while the property owners focused on iron deposits that were bigger and richer than the low-grade taconite under all the asphalt.

Now, however, the older mines are all played out and the taconite under the highway through the state’s Iron Range is worth hundreds of millions of dollars and mining it could extend the life of an operation that employs 514 people.

But there’s a problem, rerouting the four-lane highway is not going to be easy. Hwy. 53 links Duluth to International Falls and it binds the Quad Cities of the Iron Range — Virginia, Eveleth, Gilbert, and Mountain Iron — together.

Shutting down the highway could kill several businesses in the area.

“You sever that, you cut me off,” said Bill Aho, who owns a Super 8 Motel in Eveleth and an AmericInn Lodge in Virginia, just off the highway on opposite sides of the future mine site. Like others in the region, he’s been waiting and worrying over the highway relocation for years. Without Hwy. 53, he said, “We would be shut off. It would be devastating.”

To make matters worse, MnDOT only has until 2017 to come up with a solution.

“If it was easy, or clear, we would have already made a decision. But it’s not,” said Patrick Huston, MnDOT’s Hwy. 53 project director. “It’s a tremendous challenge.”

MnDOT is currently weighing its options which range from building the tallest bridge in Minnesota over some of the hardest rock on the planet to letting the highway dead-end at the mine. The state could also opt to ignore the situation, but that would likely result in a lawsuit from the landowners.

None of MnDOT’s options are ideal, and none of them are cheap. Right now all MnDOT can do is pick the lesser of all evils.

Stay tuned…

Asphalt pavement mixes are greener, more sustainable than ever

Asphalt-Road_full2-e1370867938412Asphalt pavement mixes are more sustainable than ever thanks to the increased use of recycled materials and energy-saving warm-mix technologies.

According to a survey of asphalt mix producers conducted by the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) in partnership with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), 106.4 million tons of warm-mix asphalt was used during the 2013 construction season. That’s nearly a third of all asphalt pavement mix production.

The results of the survey mark a greater than 533 percent increase in the use of warm mix since 2009.

Warm-mix asphalt is produced with a range of technologies that reduce the production and placement temperature of asphalt pavement mixtures. A variety of environmental, worker safety, and construction benefits have been realized through the adoption of warm-mix asphalt.

“Innovation is an important principle for the asphalt pavement industry. The use of warm-mix technologies, as well as recycled materials, helps us improve both the quality and sustainability of asphalt pavements,” said Bill Ensor, NAPA 2014 Chairman and President of Maryland Paving Inc. “These latest survey results reveal just how cool and green today’s asphalt pavements are, but we continue to seek greater use and adoption of these technologies.”

In 2013, approximately 72 million tons of reclaimed asphalt pavement (RAP) and 1.7 million tons of reclaimed asphalt shingles (RAS) were used in new asphalt pavement mixes in the United States. Reclaiming and reusing the asphalt cement in RAP and RAS saved about $2 billion in 2013 compared to the use of virgin asphalt binder. The use of RAP also conserved more than 68 million tons of virgin aggregate.

“These latest survey results reveal just how cool and green today’s asphalt pavements are…”Producers involved in the survey were asked about ground tire rubber, steel and blast furnace slag, and other waste material repurposed into pavements. Although national estimates of usage were not calculated, survey respondents reported using nearly 1.2 million tons of these materials in 2013 in the production of more than 6.6 million tons of asphalt pavement mixes.

“In the decade since warm mix was introduced to the U.S., its adoption by industry and agencies has been remarkable,” said NAPA President Mike Acott. “Now we are looking to focus research and engineering on using warm mix in combination with greater levels of recycled materials to make our long-lasting, high performance asphalt pavements even more sustainable.”

The tons of asphalt pavement mixtures produced using recycled and reclaimed materials was predominately flat from 2012 to 2013, despite a 2.5 percent drop in total tons of asphalt produced during 2013 compared to 2012. However, the percentage of tons produced using these materials was greater in 2013 than 2012.

The survey was conducted in mid-2014. Results from 249 companies with 1,281 plants in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, along with data from State Asphalt Pavement Associations for 38 states were used to compile the report.

Bad roads cost Massachusetts drivers $8.3 billion a year

rough-road-light-upDeficient and congested roads and bridges ends up costing Massachusetts drivers a total of $8.3 billion statewide annually, and as much as 1,900 per driver according to the latest TRIP report.

Drivers end up paying so much money annually due to several reasons including higher vehicle operating costs, traffic crashes and congestion-related delays.

The report found that approximately one-fifth of major roads and highways are in poor condition and more than half of Massachusetts’ bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. To make matters worse, the state’s major urban roads have high levels of congestion, with drivers wasting significant amounts of time and fuel each year.

Worst of all, Massachusetts’ rural non-interstate traffic fatality rate is more than three-and-a-half times higher than the fatality rate on all other roads in the state.

A breakdown of the costs per motorist in each of Massachusetts’ largest urban areas, and a statewide total.

A breakdown of the costs per motorist in each of Massachusetts’ largest urban areas, and a statewide total.

 

The report claims 19 percent of Massachusetts’ major roads and highways have pavements in poor condition, with an additional 64 percent of the state’s major roads rated to be in mediocre condition. The remaining 17 percent are rated in in good condition.

Driving on deteriorated roads costs the state’s motorists $2.3 billion each year in extra vehicle operating costs, including accelerated vehicle depreciation, additional repair costs, and increased fuel consumption and tire wear.

Massachusetts’ bridges could use a lot of work too. A total of 52 percent of the states bridges show significant deterioration and nine percent are structurally deficient. An additional 43 percent of the state’s bridges are functionally obsolete.

“The TRIP report is the latest study documenting the desperate conditions of the state’s roads and bridges which pose public safety risks as well as major costs for Massachusetts drivers,” said Michael J. Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. “Indexing of the gas tax was one of the key recommendations of the Transportation Finance Commission in order to raise the funds to maintain our roads and bridges and public transit systems.”

Traffic congestion is mounting across the state, costing each driver as much as $1,147 annually in lost time and wasted fuel, a total of $3.9 billion statewide.

Traffic crashes in Massachusetts claimed the lives of 1,697 people between 2008 and 2012.

“Improvements to our infrastructure are an investment in public safety – whether it be for drivers, cyclists or pedestrians,” said Mary Maguire, director of public and government affairs for AAA Southern New England.

Traffic crashes in Massachusetts claimed the lives of 1,697 people between 2008 and 2012. Traffic crashes on Massachusetts’ non-Interstate rural roads are particularly deadly, with a fatality rate in 2012 of 2.07 traffic fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel, more than three-and-a-half times the fatality rate of 0.58 on all other roads and highways in the state.

The efficiency of Massachusetts’ transportation system, particularly its highways, is critical to the health of the state’s economy. A 2007 analysis by the Federal Highway Administration found that every $1 billion invested in highway construction would support approximately 27,800 jobs.

Unfortunately, Massachusetts seems to be following a common trend among states researched by TRIP. A few weeks ago TRIP reported that 47 percent of New York roads and bridges need work. In August it was reported that deficient roads in Alabama cost drivers $3.1 billion annually.

MDOT receives ITS Award

MDOTThe Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) has won the Best New Innovative Practice – Partnership Deployment award in the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) America’s “Best of ITS Awards,” honoring the most innovative, effective and influential achievements in the ITS industry.

MDOT was recognized for the Mississippi River Bridges – Incident Management, Freight Movement and Security ITS Project. Working with the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD) and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (LDOTD), a regional ITS network was constructed to improve operational efficiency at the four Mississippi River crossings in the state through traffic monitors and dynamic message boards, and other means to convey traveler information.

 “It was an honor to be recognized at the premier ITS event of the year among thousands of public sector and transportation industry professionals,” said MDOT Executive Director Melinda McGrath.

The Best of ITS Awards annually recognize the best and brightest of the high-tech transportation community. This highly competitive program recognizes the organizations whose projects have demonstrated specific and measurable outcomes and exemplified innovation by establishing a “new dimension” of performance.

In September, MDOT also took home the top honors in the southeast regional America’s Transportation Awards.

RIDOT redesigned website wins National Award

RIDOT_logo_web_opt_1The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) newly redesigned website has been named ‘Best DOT Website, Without Consultant’ by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Communications Subcommittee (Transcomm). Transcomm is comprised of representatives from DOTs across the country.

“We are honored to have been selected by our peers across the country for this award,” RIDOT Director Michael P. Lewis said. “This new website, coupled with our social media pages, is part of a much broader effort on our part to transform how we engage with the public and transparently share information in today’s digital age. It is also a key part of our evolution as a department into one that is customer and performance focused.”

The new website was launched last May and offers a first-of-its-kind web experience among state agency sites in Rhode Island – includes timely updates on travel conditions, live news and social media feeds, safety resources, bid announcements, enhanced traffic camera access, and in-depth information on construction projects around the state.

This past summer, RIDOT claims more than 100,000 people logged on over the course of 10 days to watch live coverage of the new Barton Corner Bridges being moved into place along I-95. It was the first time RIDOT was able to provide that type of access. Earlier this month, a time-lapse video of the project was added to the site.

A performance dashboard is the latest feature to be added to the site. Its design mimics a car’s dashboard – with gauge displays that offer statistics on highway congestion levels, seat belt usage, the condition of RIDOT’s bridges, status of construction projects, and salt usage during winter operations.

Highway and bridge construction starts on the rise in September

bridge construction workersNew construction starts rose 10 percent in September to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $604.1 billion, according to McGraw Hill Construction. The increase followed an up-and-down pattern during the previous two months, and brought activity to its highest level so far during 2014.

Nonbuilding construction saw a 38 percent increase at $162.9 billion with the electric utility category going up 107 percent, public works project types advancing 26 percent and river/harbor development rising 40 percent. Highways and bridge construction starts rose eight percent. Of the public works category, water supply construction was the only section to lose momentum, falling 27 percent.

Nonresidential building saw a big gain as well, increasing 15 percent to $228.5 billion. The institutional building group rose 33 percent, while transportation terminal work was up 171 percent. Educational facilities climbed 34 percent, healthcare facilities fell 44 percent and the manufacturing plant category rose 105 percent.

Residential building suffered a decrease of nine percent to $212.7 billion. This was mostly the result of a 23 percent decrease in multifamily housing and a three percent decrease in single family housing.

The first nine months of 2014 has seen a five percent gain for total construction. Since the start of the year, nonresidential building has climbed a total of 17 percent, residential building has increased six percent and nonbuilding construction decreased nine percent.

Altogether, total construction starts thus far this year have seen gains for the South Central, South Atlantic, Northeast, Midwest and West regions.

How new healthcare may affect you starting in 2015

healthcare moneyBeginning in 2015, employers with more than 50 employees are required to offer healthcare coverage to their full-time employees or otherwise be hit with a significant financial penalty. In 2016, this kicks in for smaller firms. A Willis Group Holdings P.L.C. survey found that 62 percent of the employers surveyed said they plan to comply with this mandate. Thirty-two percent of employers surveyed were undecided, and only 6 percent of those surveyed said that don’t plan to comply with the mandate.

Despite the majority of the employers surveyed planning to observe the mandate, that doesn’t mean these companies plan to extend benefits to employees’ spouses without adding in a surcharge. In fact, a Business Insurance report on the study indicated that 12 percent of employers already have added a special surcharge or have eliminated coverage to employees’ spouses if the spouse is eligible for coverage from his or her own employer. Between 2015 and 2018, 3 percent of employers surveyed plan to take this type of action. Another 20 percent are expected to do so, but no date has been set.

The Kaiser Family Foundation says that the average premium in 2013 for only covering employees was $5,884. However, adding a spouse can double the cost.

Of the respondents that identified a cost impact of health care reform, 54 percent noted a cost increase between 0 percent and 5 percent, while 22 percent estimated their increase in the 5- to 10-percent range – all while group medical costs for employers have continued to rise. Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) indicated their health plan costs increased in 2014, the study indicated.

The Willis “Health Care Reform Survey 2014” study’s key findings are as follows:

  • Employers are choosing to “play” and continue to offer health benefits. “‘Moving away from benefit engagement’ was rated as extremely unlikely by over 60 percent of respondents and somewhat unlikely by another 17 percent,” according to the study. “Employers view their medical benefits as an important and desirable part of their compensation offerings and they will take steps to manage costs so that they can continue to offer benefits to their employees. This conclusion is also evidenced by the findings that the employers represented covered the vast majority of their full-time employees already, before any mandate to do so. That demonstrates the centrality and importance of group medical benefits to their compensation practices.”
  • Cost shifting is only part of the solution. Nearly 75 percent of respondents experienced an increase in their health plan costs from 2013 to 2014, but of those who had a cost increase, 22 percent of respondents kept employee contributions the same. Strategies other than cost shifting, which are being utilized by employers in attempts to contain costs, include increasing new hire waiting periods, reducing benefits to minimum essential coverage and managing seasonal and variable hour employees to reduce the number of potentially benefit eligible employees.
  • Private exchanges are emerging as a new distribution channel. While most employers have not finalized strategies, 20 percent of responding employers are considering private exchanges, and 8 percent have strategies in development. The opportunity to control costs through defined contributions while providing greater choice to their workforces (ideally combined with user-friendly technology based tools to assist employees with evaluating those choices) is an attractive prospect for many employers. The majority of respondents also indicated that they are likely to promote employee choice, engagement and consumerism as part of their benefits strategy.
  • The cost of health care reform is a top concern among responding employers, but many have not measured it. Nearly two-thirds of respondents replied that they have not identified the impact of health care reform. Forty four percent of respondents replied that they have not specifically identified the cost of the Cadillac tax. While this seems counterintuitive considering the significance and attention applied to the costs of health care reform, it demonstrates that employers’ focus has, in many cases, been drawn to the immediate compliance needs and administrative difficulties. Despite the fact that industry consultants have identified the concern over the impact of the Cadillac tax to their clients, lack of employer engagement on this topic might be because employers view the ongoing cost analysis as a “luxury” as compared to the day to day administrative requirements demanded of them more.
  • Delays have provided breathing room…but have not affected strategies. Though the announcement of the initial employer mandate delay in 2013 came too late for many employers to adjust their strategies, the majority of survey respondents (69 percent) indicated that the announcement did not have a major impact on their benefit plan decisions.
  • Plan design compliance requirements are being met, but administrative compliance has been delayed. The majority of employers (86 percent) have determined that they have a minimum value plan (defined as the plan covering 60 percent of medical costs), but half of respondents have not yet determined the standard measurement (or “look back”) periods and safe harbor methods (for purposes of determining affordability). Requirements that involve administrative changes, as opposed to benefit design and contributions, are more difficult to implement and have been delayed.
  • Employers continue to rely on their brokers for strategy and health care reform information. Keeping up with health care reform requirements is no small task and employers are overwhelmingly looking to brokers to keep them informed and up to date regarding regulatory changes.

For a downloadable PDF of the full study findings, including charts and graphs of the study’s key findings, please click here.

 

How is your employer handling this? Are you requiring a surcharge for spousal coverage? Is it just to cover costs? I’d love to hear from you about this at tinabarbaccia@randallreilly.com.

Several NMDOT employees fired following drunken party

NMDOTThe New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) had to make the tough decision to fire multiple employees following a party that got too rowdy.

The incident happened at Best Western Sally Port Inn where many workers were staying while they were in town for an annual convention. Around 90 employees attended the convention.

Restaurant employees say some workers got so drunk that the bartender refused to serve them. One employee became so intoxicated that he relieved himself on the bar floor. He was one of the several employees who found himself without a job.

“It’s unacceptable and we’ll take quick and immediate action,” said Department of Transportation Cabinet Secretary Tom Church.

Employees also say some workers trashed their hotel rooms and destroyed the hotel’s ATM. The employee who damaged the ATM is under investigation and may have to pay around $3,500 to fix the machine.

It’s an embarrassment to 2,400 really good employees out there,” said Church.

Despite the rowdy party, Church says he isn’t going to let a few bad apples spoil the bunch. The event is scheduled to go on as usual next year.

 

Kubota adds R530 and R630 wheel loader models

Kubota R30-SeriesKubota has added two additional models to its compact wheel loader lineup, the 47.9-horsepower R530 and 61.2-horsepower R630, in a press event this week that was capped by the company’s long-awaited announcement it was entering the skid steer market.

The R530 loader has an 8.2-foot clearance, allowing you to work under low-hanging branches and low bridges. It has a 25-foot 4-inch loader clearance circle turning radius and a with-bucket rated operating capacity of 2,546 pounds.

The R630’s electronic hydrostatic transmission has four operating modes – normal, eco, power and attachment – to handle specific tasks. The R630 is Kubota’s first wheel loader entry into the 60 to 80 horsepower range. With a dump clearance of 8 feet 3 inches, the R630 has 27-foot-3 inch loader clearance circle and a standard bucket capacity of 1 yard.

Both machines have a hybrid linkage system, which combines the advantages of Z- bar and parallel lift, and keeps the load level and steady while raising and lowering the lift arms. The articulation joint allows 8 degrees of frame oscillation and 40 degrees articulation left and right. A diff lock switch immediately engages both front and wheel wheels for slip-free traction.

The common rail system electronically controls fuel injection timing on the Kubota EGR engine, resulting in better fuel economy and less engine noise. An automatic regeneration system burns accumulated soot in the diesel particulate filter; it can also convert to a manual function if you’re working in a highly combustible environment.

In the cab, rear visibility is enhanced by rounded glass corners and a sloped rear hood.  The models also have a four-post design. A wide front windshield and redesigned Z-bar linkage allow unobstructed views to the quick coupler. All major loader functions are operated on a single right-hand lever.

The two models brings to four the number of models included in Kubota’s compact loader line, which includes the R420S and the R520S.

This article was written by editorial director, Marcia Gruver Doyle.

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