Logbook: Turnpike lease in limbo; I-80 toll plan advances

Motorists pay tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which is at the center of a leasing controversy among the commonwealth’s governor and lawmakers.

Gov. Ed Rendell maintains leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike is viable, despite the vow of a key legislator from the governor’s own party to keep bottled up in committee the bill that would allow it.

Leasing the 514-mile road to a U.S.-Spanish business consortium has enough support in both legislative houses to pass, said Barry Ciccocioppo, spokesman for the Democrat governor: “This legislation is not dead.”

But Democrat Rep. Joseph Markosek, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said HB 2593, which was sent to his committee June 5, is flawed, such as by not holding the lessees publicly accountable.

“I have no plans to move it from my committee,” said Markosek.

In 2007, Rendell signed Act 44, which requires the Turnpike to provide the state transportation department with $83.3 billion over 50 years. It also would implement Turnpike toll increases of 25 percent in January 2009 and increases of up to 3 percent each following year.

The Turnpike and Pennsylvania’s transportation department also have requested permission from the Federal Highway Administration to toll Interstate 80, saying two-thirds of the state’s new transportation revenue would come from Turnpike users and the remainder from I-80 tolls.

Turnpike officials on July 14 unveiled the long-term plan for open-road tolling on I-80 that they were submitting to FHWA. In December, their application to request authority to toll I-80 under an FHWA pilot project was returned requesting more information. Their plan for tolls on I-80 pegs rates to 2010 Turnpike rates with escalation set at 3 percent per year, said Turnpike representatives.
– Todd Dills and Jill Dunn

Bush, ATA propose steps to expand U.S. oil production
The Bush administration and the American Trucking Associations are urging longer-term measures to increase domestic oil production.

Bush last month lifted a presidential ban on offshore oil drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf, though the move had no immediate effect because Congress has prohibited offshore drilling every year since the 1980s as part of the Interior Department’s appropriations bill. The executive order originally was put in place by George H. Bush in 1990.

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In a speech June 18, President Bush called on Congress to expand oil exploration in the Outer Continental Shelf, allow oil shale leasing on federal lands, permit oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and expedite the refinery permitting process to allow for more refining capacity.

“With these four steps, we will take pressure off gas prices over time by expanding the amount of American-made oil and gasoline,” Bush said.

Meanwhile, in a June 24 press conference, ATA urged the Bush administration and Congress to implement a comprehensive plan to increase domestic oil supplies.

Speaking at the Consumers For More Energy press conference, a coalition of business and other interest groups, ATA Senior Vice President Tim Lynch also recommended reducing oil demand, accelerating the development of research and technology, and increasing government oversight of petroleum markets.
– Staff reports

L.A.’s Clean Truck Program moves forward
The Los Angeles City Council approved the local port’s Clean Truck Program, which will require truckers to be carrier employees but will allow exceptions for owner-operators not regularly doing business with the port.

The June 13 vote adds momentum to the Port of Los Angeles’ transition to a licensed-carrier truck concession system, which will start Oct. 1.

The Port of Long Beach approved a similar program in February. While only “clean” concessionaire trucks will be allowed in Long Beach, owner-operators will be allowed to drive these trucks.

Owner-operators doing infrequent business with the Los Angeles port will be allowed to buy a pass, and the port will work out who qualifies for a pass and its costs by October, said port spokeswoman Theresa Adams Lopez.

The L.A. program will require that concessionaire motor carriers commit to using only employee drivers by 2013 in a phased-in schedule.

L.A. port officials also will ask its concessionaires to help develop technologies that track empty containers and match them with deliveries of loaded containers. Concessionaires also will be asked to help develop effective schedules that avoid congestion at terminal gates and optimize drayage truck use.

The port was to begin registering frequently visiting trucks and an on-site registration for the federal Transportation Worker Identification Credential this summer.
– Jill Dunn

Problems slow transportation I.D. program
The Transportation Workers Identification Credential program is under fire once more, this time for card production problems.

On June 10, U.S. Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, Homeland Security committee chairman, wrote the Department of Homeland Security regarding production delays.

Eight of the 12 printing machines had been returned to the manufacturer for repair or replacement. The previous one-day card production timeline increased to 10 days and normal production won’t resume for weeks, said the Mississippi Democrat.

“It is difficult to determine which is more astonishing – a 66 percent machine failure rate or a 10-fold increase in card production time,” Thompson said. “This is yet another link in a chain of problems hampering the nation’s transportation workers from meeting the April 2009 deadline.”
– Jill Dunn

Mack Performance Tour is under way
The Mack Granite dump truck is one of the vehicles showcased on the 2008 Mack Performance Tour, giving customers at dozens of locations across North America the opportunity to test Mack trucks and the fuel-efficient Mack MP engines. Each Mack on the tour is loaded to legal capacity. For a full schedule and video highlights from drivers, visit the tour website, www.mackperformancetour.com.

Senate panel unanimous against Mexican trucks
In approving a $66.8 billion federal transportation budget – $2.1 billion above the 2008 allocation – the Senate Appropriations Committee also unanimously approved a measure against allowing any cross-border trucking program with Mexico.

The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), marks his second attempt to stop funding for the program. Dorgan previously sponsored an amendment to the 2008 omnibus spending bill, an amendment President Bush signed into law last December.

“None of the funds made available under this act may be used to establish a cross-border motor carrier demonstration program,” it read.

Democrat presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois backed the amendment, while Republican presidential contestant Sen. John McCain of Arizona opposed it.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration maintains, however, that because the law uses the words “to establish,” that it is barred only from creating any new cross-border projects with Mexico, not from continuing the program started Sept. 6.

Since then, the program has grown to 26 Mexican trucking companies, more than a dozen of which have only one or two trucks approved for cross-border operation. The 10 American carriers approved for cross-border operation into Mexico likewise have only a few trucks participating.
– Jill Dunn

Truckers rally in New York state
Truckers staged a June 19 rally at the New York state Capitol in Albany to protest the state’s ton-mile tax, diesel prices and other issues.

Attended by more than 200 people, the rally was the culmination of a New York Thruway convoy of more than 130 tractor-trailers from as far away as Michigan and Virginia.

Charles Claburn of Hudson Falls, a former owner-operator leased to Wal-Mart, started Truckers and Citizens United of New York (http://truckersandcitizensunite.com) four months ago after parking his truck. He says his group has 7,500 members, nearly all owner-operators or small-fleet owners.

New York is one of four states with a ton-mile tax, a highway-use tax for trucks weighing 18,000 pounds or more that is based on miles traveled. Claburn says the tax cost him $7,500 in 2007.

Other state issues raised by Claburn’s group include:

  • A DOT proposal to make truckers use Interstates as much as possible and establish a routing hierarchy for their travel;
  • An increasing number of tickets for minor equipment violations, such as a $125 fine for a marker light being out; and
  • Repeated toll increases on the Thruway, including one in January and another this summer.

– Jill Dunn

Ontario makes speed limiters mandatory
The Ontario, Canada, legislature passed a bill mandating speed limiter use on most large trucks to cap speeds at 105 kilometers per hour (65 mph) to reduce pollution and improve road safety. The use of speed limiters could be implemented as early as this fall, followed by a six -to 12-month education period.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which long has argued that speed governors benefit fleets at the expense of independents, said it would challenge the legislation, the first of its kind in North America.
– Staff reports

Low out-of-service rate for Roadcheck
Despite concerns that a weakening economy and higher fuel prices would push safety to the bottom of the list for commercial motor vehicle fleets, Roadcheck 2008 showed the lowest vehicle out-of-service rate for Level I inspections in two decades, 23.9 percent.

“This rate is the principal barometer used to measure compliance, and it is the lowest we’ve seen in the 21-year history of Roadcheck,” said Stephen Campbell, executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, which organized the June 3-5 inspection blitz.

Inspectors at 1,683 locations across North America performed 67,931 truck and bus inspections.

For drivers, the 5.3 percent overall out-of-service rate was a 14.5 percent improvement over the 2007 rate.

The number of safety-belt violations increased significantly, from 829 in 2007 to 1,226 this year.

Brakes continued to be the top vehicle out-of-service defect, making up 52.6 percent of total vehicle defects.
– Staff reports

New biodiesel standards should speed acceptance
After a five-year wait, the National Biodiesel Board announced that three sets of biodiesel specifications have been approved.

Automakers and engine manufacturers have wanted a finished blend specification for 20 percent (B20) biodiesel blends for years. Some said lacking the spec was the single greatest hurdle preventing their complete acceptance of B20 use in their diesel vehicles.

The approval of American Society for Testing and Materials specifications for inclusion of up to 5 percent biodiesel (B5) in regular diesel fuel also will result in biodiesel soon becoming more readily available at retail pumps nationwide.
– Jill Dunn

Labs must check drug tests for tampering
The U.S. Department of Transportation announced a new rule June 30 designed to make cheating on mandatory drug tests more difficult: Labs will be required to analyze every test for tampering.

Labs no longer would have the option of testing urine samples for signs of cheating, but instead would be required to test every specimen for possible adulterants and urine substitutes, Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters said. Tampering with a specimen would be viewed as the equivalent of refusing to be tested, she said.

In addition, collectors will be required to put in place new procedures designed to prevent tampering with drug tests.

A Government Accountability Office investigation of 24 collection sites found lax identification and testing procedures. For example, 75 percent of the sites didn’t limit access to simple adulterants such as running water, soap and air freshener, much less the 400 products marketed to mislead drug tests.
– Staff reports

NAVISTAR INTERNATIONAL announced that higher commodity costs have led it to increase prices on International trucks. Price increases will vary by model, topping at $1,600 per truck.

VOLVO TRUCKS North America announced it will develop three lightweight prototype sleepers as part of a $2.5 million U.S. Army program for lighter, more fuel-efficient trucks. The sleeper cabs will consist of three pieces: a one-piece composite sleeper, a composite roof and a modified steel cab.

PRIDE & POLISH entrants at the Great American Trucking Show can submit their truck to be considered for a 2009 calendar. To nominate a truck, visit www.prideandpolish.com and click on “Calendar information.”

SURFACE TRADE between the United States and Canada and Mexico was 14.3 percent higher in April year-over-year, reaching $74.3 billion, the highest monthly level ever recorded, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The previous high of $74.2 billion was set in October 2007.

CAR HAULER Performance Transportation Services of Allen Park, Mich., which operated more than 1,000 trucks under various divisions, shut down June 13 after failing to reach agreement with the Teamsters union on a 15 percent temporary pay cut approved by a bankruptcy judge.

NIJJAR BROTHERS TRUCKING in Madera, Calif., will be dissolved for faking log books, while co-owners Surinder Nijjar and Amritpal Singh have been sentenced to 12 months in prison and 12 months probation, respectively, and must pay $100,000 in fines.

THE FORMER OWNER of Bosnia Truck Driving School in St. Louis, Mustafa Redzic, was sentenced to 75 months in prison for faking CDL test results. Hundreds of CDLs were canceled or suspended as a result of the investigation.

THE AMERICAN TRANSPORTATION Research Institute added three new state regulations to the idling regulations compendium and cab card posted on its website. Three states currently developing idling regulations also have been added. The compendium provides a listing of truck idling limits, exemptions and fines.

BAY AREA KENWORTH in Oakland, Calif., has added three locations in Gilroy, Eureka and Redding in northern California.

TED HARRINGTON of Hoover, Ala., won a $500 Iowa 80 Gift Card in Iowa80.Com’s recent Dreams of Chrome Sweepstakes. His name was drawn from more than 5,000 entries in the online promotion.

RUAN TRANSPORT assisted residents of Indiana, Iowa and Kansas who were affected by floods and tornadoes this spring. The company provided food, water, clothing and transportation and assisted with collections of needed supplies for hard-hit areas.

MIDNIGHT TRUCKING RADIO NETWORK is displaying the “Sweet Freedom” truck produced by the Chrome Shop Mafia at TravelCenters of America truck stops.

MICHELIN NORTH AMERICA is increasing prices on many product lines including commercial truck tires. Prices will increase by up to 8 percent on Michelin and BFGoodrich brand replacement tires and Michelin Retread Technologies retreads, effective Sept. 1.

IDLEAIRE TECHNOLOGIES CORP., based in Knoxville, Tenn., will be sold for $26 million to a group of investors. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The new owners did not announce any change in operations.

CALIFORNIA. Using a hand-held cell phone while driving is prohibited except in emergencies. Fines start at $20 for the first offense and $50 for subsequent offenses, plus fees that will more than triple the fines.

COLORADO. Westbound I-70 truck traffic between the Eisenhower Tunnel and Silverthorne is being detoured over Loveland Pass during paving, scheduled for 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time Mondays through Thursdays into September. Expect lane closures and delays at other times.

FLORIDA. Beginning Dec. 15, idling will be limited to five minutes, but a sleeper-berth exception will be in effect until Sept. 30, 2013. Violators will not incur tickets, only warnings.

ILLINOIS. Work on the intersection of U.S. 51, U.S. 60 and U.S. 62 near Cairo means rerouted traffic and a 10-foot, 6-inch width restriction at the Illinois end of the Ohio River bridge through the end of summer, while the U.S. 60/62 bridge over the Mississippi River will be closed until early August.

MASSACHUSETTS. Boston’s new hazmat route, 84 miles longer than the previous one, has been challenged by the American Trucking Associations, which says the city ignored federal procedures. The matter is before the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

MONTANA. During work on U.S. 191 through Gallatin Canyon south of Bozeman, truck traffic is limited to local deliveries. Local truckers can expect closures and delays. Alternate north-south routes for through trucks include I-15, U.S. 287 and U.S. 89.

TEXAS. Gov. Rick Perry announced his state and the U.S. Border Patrol will begin cracking down on commercial truckers who knowingly smuggle illegal weapons, drugs or humans across the Texas-Mexico border. The governor directed the Texas Department of Public Safety to work with the Border Patrol to revoke the commercial driver’s licenses of those convicted of felony smuggling.

VIRGINIA. For the first time since enabling federal legislation was passed in 2005, tax-exempt government bonds have been issued to private companies for a road-building project. Transurban of Australia and Fluor Enterprises will collect tolls on the high-occupancy lanes being added to 14 miles of the I-495 Capital Beltway outside Washington.