transportation

Haslam: I’ll be thinking about school bus seat belts for a year or so

While he didn’t support mandatory school seat belt legislation this year, Gov. Bill Haslam says he’ll be thinking about doing so maybe next year, reports the Times Free Press.

Failing in the 2017 legislative session was a bill by Rep. JoAnn Favors, D-Chattanooga, to require that new buses put into service starting in 2919. Approved was a measure backed by the governor that calls for more training of school bus drivers and sets some new standards for the job.

“We’re going to continue to do work to say, ‘Are they the right answer today?'” the governor said last week to reporters. “And if they are, then we’ll figure out the financial piece. But as you know, there’s quite a bit of disagreement about whether seat belts were the right thing to do just from a safety standpoint.”

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Haslam lists highway projects to be completed in next three years

News release from Department of Transportation

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer today released TDOT’s annual three year transportation program, featuring approximately $2.6 billion in infrastructure investments for 101 individual project phases in 40 counties, as well as 15 statewide programs.

The three-year program is more robust than previous years, due to funding increases through the IMPROVE Act, which is projected to raise an additional $150 million to meet the state’s infrastructure needs in FY 2018. This increase, combined with $120 million repayment to the highway fund, provides the necessary funds to move several backlogged and new transportation projects forward in the first year of the program. Those include:

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House gets budget back on track with $55M boost in county highway funding

Gov. Bill Haslam’s $37 billion state budget bill got back on the tracks Friday after a derailment on the House floor Thursday.

The House approved the measure (HB511) by a lopsided 83-2 vote after a round of good will speeches that contrasted to cranky commentary the day before.

Approval came after all amendments adopted on Thursday were stripped off the bill and one major new one added that its sponsor, Republican Rep. Judd Mathney of Tullahoma, said was “negotiated long and hard last night.”

The amendment takes $55 million of surplus money that Haslam wanted to send to the state Department of Transportation for extra road construction money and instead sends the $55 million to all 95 counties, divided among them according to the formula now used to distribute state highway funds to the counties. It’s similar to an amendment proposed on Thursday by Rep. Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station, that failed by one vote at the time.

House approval sets up a Senate vote on the budget bill Monday and, with approval there, both chambers will be in positon to adjourn the 2017 legislative session by Tuesday or Wednesday of next week.

Alexander, Corker, Duncan seek fed focus on alleged defective guardrails

Three Tennessee congressmen – Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, along with Rep. John Duncan Jr. – are asking federal officials to consider revoking their approval for the use of highway guardrails linked to four fatalities in Tennessee, reports WJHL-TV.

In the letter, they asked FHWA Acting Deputy Administrator Butch Waidelich, Jr. to consider revoking its letter of eligibility for the X-Lite Terminal Guard rail issued in 2011.

The eligibility letter indicates the product has been tested and is eligible for federal reimbursements for states that use it.

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‘Open container’ bill dies despite Haslam’s support

Legislation prohibiting open containers of an alcoholic beverage in moving vehicles is dead again this year even though Gov. Bill Haslam made it part of his official legislative package for 2017.

Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, who has pushed the idea for years, had hoped Haslam’s backing would make a difference, reports WJHL-TV, and is disappointed by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (sponsoring SB1219 for the administration) pulled the bill without a vote.

Norris said there’s not enough support among legislators for passage and debating the matter would be “a distraction” from the push for passage of the governor’s priority bill of the year — a package of tax legislation including increases in gas and diesel fuel taxes.

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Report: Poor TN road conditions cost drivers $6B

A national transportation research group says deterioration, congestion and lack of safety features on Tennessee roads and bridges cost the state’s drivers $6 billion annually, according to an AP brief summarizing the study.

The report by TRIP was released Tuesday, the day before a House floor vote on Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to raise the gas tax for road improvements. The group says the $6 billion figure includes higher vehicle operating costs, traffic crashes and congestion-related delays.  

The report says the average extra cost to each driver annually is $2,019 in Memphis, $1,667 in Nashville, $1,471 in Chattanooga and $1,376 in Knoxville.

Note: The full report is HERE. TRIP bills itself as a nonprofit research organization “sponsored by insurance companies, equipment manufacturers, distributors and suppliers; businesses involved in highway and transit engineering and construction; labor unions; and organizations concerned with efficient and safe surface transportation.”

Haslam on school bus seat belts: I’m not for the bill, but would sign it

Gov. Bill Haslam’s bill responding to a fatal school bus wreck in Chattanooga last year has been moved ahead without opposition but he’s staying out of a more controversial debate over whether the vehicles should be required to have seat belts, reports the Times-Free Press.

The governor told reporters that his administration is “technical deferred” on HB395 by Rep. JoAnn Favors, D-Chattanooga. His bill (HB322) won unanimous House approval Monday. Favors’ bill has cleared a couple of key committees on close votes, but still has a long way to go.

“I think there’s a big discussion back and forth in the Legislature,” Haslam said. “Deferred means if they pass it, we’ll sign it and figure out a way to fund it. But we’re not actively engaged in that one. The proposal we made was the proposal that we obviously wanted to make certain would happen.”

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Dad tells legislators TDOT at fault in daughter’s death

In tearful testimony Tuesday, the father of a 17-year-old Lenoir City girl whose death was the result of an apparently defective guardrail demanded Tennessee lawmakers take action to prevent future deaths, reports The Tennessean.

Steven Eimers, the father of Hannah Eimers, gave an emotional presentation before the House Transportation Committee, blaming the culture within the Tennessee Department of Transportation and shoddy technology for his daughter’s death. He demanded new independent inspections of guardrails, felony charges for improperly installing them and incentives for state workers to report faulty installation and damage.

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Bill on school bus seat belts clears House panel 9-7

A bill requiring Tennessee school buses to be equipped with seat belts cleared the House Transportation Committee with a 9-7 vote Tuesday amid concerns over costs and other factors. The bill by Rep. JoAnn Favors, D-Chattanooga, (HB395) was prompted by a Nov. 21, 2016, school bus crash that killed six Chattanooga children.

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Judge voids TN billboard regulation law

U.S. District Judge Jon P. McCalla of Memphis has declared Tennessee’s Billboard Regulation and Control Act unconstitutional, invalidating a law that has governed outdoor advertising in the state since 1972, reports the Commercial Appeal.

The ruling Friday came down on the side of Memphis billboard operator William H. Thomas Jr., who had alleged in a lawsuit that Tennessee Department of Transportation officials violated his constitutional rights in their efforts to remove a sign he constructed at the Interstate 40-240 interchange in East Memphis despite being denied a permit for it.

Although local governments often regulate billboards through zoning ordinances, McCalla’s decision potentially opens up vast areas of the state to unfettered proliferation of outdoor signs along highways. It also could result in a 10 percent cut in federal highway funds to Tennessee because the Highway Beautification Act of 1965 requires states to regulate billboards to federal standards.

The ruling follows a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down portions of an Arizona town’s sign ordinance on free-speech grounds, a case cited by McCalla. With the latest decision, similar litigation is likely to be lodged against other states’ billboard laws, say advocates of controls on outdoor advertising.

“It will also have an impact … far beyond Tennessee,” said William Brinton, an attorney who represented Scenic America, Scenic Tennessee and other groups seeking to preserve the billboard regulation law.

Thomas’ suit attracted allies among limited-government groups such as The Beacon Center of Tennessee, which say that billboard laws, by allowing regulatory exemptions for certain types of messages, impose undue “content-based” regulation of speech.

But advocates of billboard laws say the rules are needed as a means of protecting not just aesthetics but property values and possibly traffic safety.

ABOUT THIS BLOG

Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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