Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Missouri Bridges Safe for Travel

JEFFERSON CITY – It has been almost a year since the tragic collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis, and the Missouri Department of Transportation has spent that time inspecting and evaluating bridges around the state.

The morning after the Aug. 1 tragedy, Gov. Matt Blunt asked MoDOT officials to inspect all deck truss bridges in the state that were similar to the bridge that collapsed. Just two months later, MoDOT had inspected the 11 deck truss bridges in depth and confirmed they were safe.

In January 2008, federal investigators determined that design flaws with some of the gusset plates, as well as weight added to the bridge, contributed to the Minneapolis collapse. Truss bridges use steel gusset plates to hold together the steel beams that support the structure. MoDOT has 232 truss bridges, 76 of which have had weight added to them since their original construction. To date, no problems related to the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge have been found on these bridges.

"MoDOT takes bridge safety very seriously and we immediately close any structure we determine to be unsafe," said State Bridge Engineer Dennis Heckman. "When further information is released from the investigation of the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge, we will determine if that information applies to the bridges in Missouri and take any action necessary."

Missouri has more than 10,000 bridges that are inspected a minimum of every two years.

Meanwhile, MoDOT continues developing its Safe & Sound Bridge Improvement Program.
This program will replace or rehabilitate more than 800 of the state’s most worn-out bridges. A map of the 800 bridges that will be improved or replaced is available at www.modot.org.

Also, MoDOT Director Pete Rahn joined Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and other transportation officials in Philadelphia on July 28 to address the need for greater investment in the nation's bridges. Rahn is president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, which has released an in-depth analysis that outlines the condition of America’s bridges and the future challenges to restore and rebuild those bridges. The report can be found at http://www.transportation.org/

Editor’s note: Photos of MoDOT Director Pete Rahn announcing the release of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ in-depth analysis of the condition of America’s bridges can be found at http://www.modot.org/newsroom/index.htm.

Monday, July 14, 2008

MoDOT Making Widgets

JEFFERSON CITY – The Missouri Department of Transportation is making widgets.

Once a common economics term to describe hypothetical products, widgets are now a staple in the Internet world. They allow Web users to get information delivered directly to their computer desktops, Web sites, blog pages or personal Internet pages, such as Facebook and MySpace.

MoDOT offers four widgets that provide information on job openings, YouTube videos, blog posts and news releases. A fifth widget provides all four subjects in one. The widgets can be found at www.modot.org/widgets.

MoDOT is the first Missouri state agency to offer this technology to its Web site visitors.
“Widgets help us provide easy access to transportation information,” said Matt Hiebert, MoDOT web manager. “With a widget, the information comes to you, rather than you having to search for it.”

Visitors just need to click on the Add Widget tab at the bottom of the individual widgets they wish to place. From there, they can choose where to place and display the widget.

“If you have an iGoogle search page, for example, you can keep up with the latest MoDOT news and information with the click of a mouse,” Hiebert said.

The department will be offering more widgets in the near future, such as a desktop widget.“With a desktop widget you don’t even have to be on a browser to get the latest transportation news,” Hiebert said. “It will load directly onto your desktop.”

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Missouri Supplies $5 Million for Improved Amtrak Service

CHICAGO and JEFFERSON CITY - Reliability of Kansas City to St. Louis trains operated by Amtrak for the Missouri Department of Transportation can improve, thanks to $5 million provided by the Missouri state legislature and approved by Gov. Matt Blunt to increase track capacity on the route. The Missouri Mules (Trains 311, 313, 314 & 316) provide twice-daily round trips across the state and have been plagued by lengthy delays due to heavy freight traffic on the Union Pacific Railroad line.

"This is great news for Missouri," said MoDOT Director Pete Rahn. "This funding will lead to improved service, helping make Amtrak trains an even better travel alternative."
New track extensions, called sidings, will reduce bottlenecks between Kansas City and Jefferson City in west central Missouri. These parallel tracks can allow trains to pass each other without having to stop. In addition to the state appropriation, MoDOT is seeking an additional $5 million in federal matching funding from a new Federal Railroad Administration program.

"This marks a major change in Missouri's approach to passenger rail," Rahn added. "State-supported Amtrak service has been running between Kansas City and St. Louis since 1979 and each year legislators have budgeted only enough money to operate the trains; nothing to build improvements. This capital improvement funding shows a new level of commitment by our legislators to Amtrak service."

Missouri Senate Leader Mike Gibbons was instrumental in the legislative push to provide the additional funding.

"As gas prices continue to rise, Missourians need and deserve a reliable and affordable alternate mode of travel," he said. "This funding allows trains to pass without delay, relieves congestion and will improve on-time performance of passenger rail, meaning it will be a real option for travelers."

Improvements on the line could not be occurring at a better time. Ridership between Kansas City and St. Louis increased sharply in April and May, compared to the same period last year.

"Much of this route is a single set of tracks and Amtrak trains share the limited capacity with numerous freight trains," said Michael Franke, Amtrak Assistant Vice President - State Partnerships. "Investments in infrastructure have been sorely needed for passenger trains to operate more reliably between St. Louis and Kansas City.

"This capital funding is an important first step in addressing the capacity of this heavily-used corridor and such investments in the infrastructure will ultimately lead to improvements in train performance," Franke added.

A study of chokepoints on the route was completed in 2007 by the University of Missouri-Columbia and siding construction and extensions were found to have the most immediate prospect for service improvements.

"This study forms the basis of discussions with Union Pacific Railroad as to how the project will be implemented, and discussions with the railroad on how the project will take shape will begin in the next few weeks," said Brian Weiler, MoDOT Director of Multimodal Operations. "These improvements will also complement Union Pacific's own improvements near the chokepoints at the Gasconade and Osage rivers."