Rhode Island fleet owner sentenced for illegal emissions 'tunes'

Trucking news and briefs for Friday, Dec. 15, 2023:

Sentence handed down for fleet who bypassed emissions controls

The owner and president of a North Kingstown, Rhode Island-based trucking company and his two corporations were sentenced in federal court in Providence this week for violating the Clean Air Act by tampering with emissions control systems.

U.S. Attorney Zachary A. Cunha in a press release said Michael J. Collins and his companies conspired together with trucking and diesel vehicle sales and service companies throughout the United States and with a foreign national to violate the Clean Air Act by selling and providing a software program that tampered with on-board vehicle computers in order to alter or bypass key features in emission control systems.

Collins, having previously pled guilty to a charge of conspiracy to violate the Clean Air Act, was ordered to serve a term of three years of probation; to perform 100 hours of community service; pay a $50,000 fine; and to create a compliance and ethics program and notify his employees and stockholders of said program.

Additionally, each of Collins’ corporations was placed on probation for three years and ordered to provide a payment of $125,000 to the Rhode Island Environmental Recovery Fund.

According to Cunha, for nearly five years beginning in September 2014, Collins, his North Kingstown company M&D Transportation, Inc.; his now-defunct Diesel Tune-Ups of RI, Inc. business; various trucking and diesel vehicle sales and repair companies throughout the United States; and a foreign national all conspired to alter or disable certain functions of the electronic control modules (ECM) and on-board diagnostic (OBD) monitoring systems of heavy-duty trucks, performing “tunes.”

Collins admitted that in exchange for a fee, the unnamed foreign national would download tuning software through a laptop provided by Collins and his companies that was then connected to each vehicle. Through a remote connection, the “tunes” were downloaded onto each truck’s ECM to reprogram the vehicle’s monitoring systems.

The monitoring systems were manipulated so that they would not detect malfunctions in the emission control components, thereby allowing vehicles to operate without proper emission controls. As a result, “tuned” trucks could run with increased horsepower and torque, which can reduce maintenance and repair costs, but which results in significant increases in pollutant emissions, Cunha added.

The tuning business was marketed on Facebook, and interested companies were directed to contact a Rhode Island telephone number associated with Collins, M & D, and Diesel Tune-Ups. Customers paid Collins’ companies between $1,700 and $3,650 for each vehicle “tuned.” Collins and his companies wired a portion of the funds to their foreign co-conspirator and retained a portion of the funds for themselves.

[Related: 'Emissions delete' scheme leads to max penalty for fleet, repair shop]

RIDOT opens temporary bypass lanes for I-195 bridge closure

Following the closure of the westbound lanes of the I-195 Washington Bridge earlier this week, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) early Friday morning opened two bypass lanes for I-195 West traffic from East Providence to Providence. The main lanes were closed after crews found “a critical failure of some bridge components.”

This new temporary traffic pattern will allow two lanes of travel westbound and two lanes of travel eastbound -- all operating on the eastbound Washington Bridge.

RIDOT will reopen most ramps that had been closed. However, the Gano Street off-ramp (Exit 1D) will remain closed, as will the on-ramps to I-195 West from Veterans Memorial Parkway and Taunton Avenue. RIDOT will continue to maintain passage on the westbound bridge for emergency vehicles only.

With the bypass lane open, RIDOT expects less congestion, but there will still be delays. One or another detour route could be more effective. As traffic becomes accustomed to the change with the bypass lanes open, RIDOT expects congestion levels to even out and create more predictable traffic flow and travel times.

RIDOT has posted estimated travel times for each detour route on the Washington Bridge closure page and will update this information continuously.

The following recommended detours and alternate routes may be used:

  • The preferred route for trucks: Southeast Massachusetts west of Fall River: Take Massachusetts Exit 1 and follow Route 114A to Route 44 West. Follow onto Route 114 (Pawtucket Avenue) or Route 1A (Newport Avenue) to I-95. 
  • Local traffic in East Providence: Use the Henderson Bridge and rejoin I-195 West at Gano Street.
  • Southeast Massachusetts east of Fall River (including traffic coming from Cape Cod and the New Bedford Area): Take Massachusetts Exit 14B to Route 24 North. Follow to I-495 North to I-95.

[Related: I-83 bridge closed this weekend]

Wyoming getting more truck parking

Wyoming I-80 winter closureWyoming is receiving a federal grant to add around 365 more truck parking spaces in Evanston along I-80 to help alleviate winter congestion when the interstate is closed.Wyoming DOT

The Wyoming Department of Transportation announced this week it has been awarded a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to build hundreds of new truck parking spaces in southwest Wyoming. 

WYDOT will receive more than $26.6 million through the 2023-2024 federal Rural Surface Transportation Grant, which will be used to build about 365 truck parking spaces along I-80 in Evanston. 

“This is a crucial project for Wyoming. It's an investment in our road infrastructure that will help address pedestrian and vehicle safety hazards that occur when winter weather forces the closure of I-80,” Gov. Mark Gordon said. “Importantly, it will alleviate the impacts to the community caused by hundreds of tractor-trailers seeking somewhere safe to park.”

Due to its proximity to the state border, Evanston can be inundated with commercial vehicles and other traffic during a long duration closure of I-80, WYDOT said, which can strain local resources, street parking and other infrastructure. 

[Related: Wyoming I-80's $34M overhaul after the 'winter from hell']

“Truck parking continues to be one of the highest priorities for both truck drivers and motor carriers,” said Sheila Foertsch, President and CEO of the Wyoming Trucking Association. “Safe, well lit, accessible parking makes the nation's highway system safer.” 

Beyond serving as a safe place to wait out Wyoming’s infamous winter weather, Foertsch added that the parking is essential to the industry by providing a place for drivers to meet their required hours of service breaks. 

The Uinta County Senior Citizens Board has also committed to providing limited on-demand transit service to the truck parking areas, once constructed, to help manage truck congestion and help truck drivers reach critical services. 

Parking area construction is expected to begin in Spring 2026 depending on design timing, project letting schedule and other potential scheduling considerations.

[Related: 'Estimated opening time is unknown': Winter from hell on I-80 in Wyoming]

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