Friday, May 29, 2009

Back Seat Driving with Trucks

My husband, Mr. Terrific (not his real name), and I did some interstate traveling this week with a good friend. As expected, we encountered several large trucks along the way. What with all the gorgeous Missouri hills and all, we had the opportunity to pass a few.

I reminded Mr. Terrific to re-enter the driving lane only when he saw the truck’s full grille in the rearview mirror. He also got reminders about keeping the truck’s big mirrors in view when driving behind one. (Yes, I was in the back seat.)

That started a discussion in our vehicle. Good Friend remarked how anxious she gets when driving near commercial trucks. I explained that truck drivers are among the most safety-conscious people I know. It’s built into their jobs as rolling businesspeople. They check their vehicle safety systems before they start their workday. They log the location and time of every start, stop and break because there are tough rules about the amount of time they can be behind the wheel. They pull over at weigh stations so the Highway Patrol can check their paperwork and vehicle for violations.

Good Friend didn’t know about all of that. She asked about the mud flaps that say “If you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you.” They’re not kidding! The blind spots for trucks are HUGE. They’re located directly behind and in front of the truck and from the back bumper to almost the cab on the driver’s side and the front bumper on the passenger side.

I noticed that Mr. Terrific was leaving more space between our car and the trucks. “I guess in the end, it doesn’t matter whose fault a crash is…when it’s car versus commercial truck, it’s going to be bad news for the car.”

Smart guy, my Mr. Terrific.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Rarified ARRA

I apologize for the painful headline. Missouri joined only a handful of states this week, however, in an extremely important category.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), also known as the federal stimulus bill, required states to "obligate" 50 percent of discretionary transportation funds by June 30, 2009. MoDOT beat that goal by five weeks!

Meeting the requirement is important because states that don't could lose some of their stimulus money. Those funds could then be redistributed to states who have met the deadline ... like us here in the Show-Me State. That would mean more road, bridge and other transportation improvements throughout Missouri increasing safety and supporting jobs.

Speaking of jobs, that is what ARRA is all about. MoDOT started construction on the first stimulus project in the nation within minutes of President Obama signing the Recovery Act. We wanted to show that additional investment in transportation infrastructure would indeed mean jobs. To date MoDOT stimulus projects have supported 4,970 jobs here in Missouri.

For you policy wonks, here is the full news release and our ARRA Web site .

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Get on the MoDOT Express Lane

Many of us just take our transportation system for granted, but when you think about it, transportation is one of the few things in life that affects all of us.

If you ever go anywhere or buy anything, then transportation affects you. Without a dependable transportation system, we couldn’t get to work, visit with friends and family or even get medical care when needed. Transportation is one of those things we rarely consider, but we rely on every day. So it makes sense that we should know what’s happening with transportation in Missouri – even if it’s just the basics.

How can you quickly and easily get basic – yet comprehensive – transportation information that you need to know? I think I can help you out. The MoDOT Express Lane is an electronic newsletter that I put together and send out twice a month directly to your e-mail account. This completely free electronic newsletter gives subscribers quick access to comprehensive, timely and easy-to-read transportation information, in a short, easy-to-read format. We cover topics like changing transportation laws, big projects in your area, statewide programs dealing with various issues like seat belt use, impaired driving and many others.

So, don't miss another issue! If you haven’t already, take a moment and get on the MoDOT Express Lane!

Friday, May 22, 2009

New Bridges Are Popping Up All Over

Since early spring, new bridges have been popping up all over Missouri as work has gotten underway on MoDOT's Safe & Sound bridge improvement program. As the Memorial Day weekend arrives, 23 new bridges have been completed and 26 more are under construction.

This bevy of activity is part of MoDOT's plan to improve or replace 802 of the state's worst bridges by Oct. 31, 2014. It started last fall when the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission directed MoDOT to launch the Safe & Sound program in two phases. The first was to take 248 bridges that could be rehabilitated and begin rolling them out for bids in innovative packages that grouped bridges by size, type or location. The second phase was to begin a design-build procurement to identify a team that could completely replace 554 bridges.

The bridge projects that have been completed so far are all part of that first phase, and they have been done 30 percent below budget.

In the coming months, though, even more bridge construction work is going to start as a result of actions taken yesterday by the Commission. They awarded a design-build contract to KTU Constructors to replace 554 bridges at a cost of $487 million. That price includes design, construction, project management and public outreach activities. It also protects MoDOT against inflation.

To pay for the program, MoDOT will sell bonds and repay them over 24 years within its budgeted amount of annual payments in the neighborhood of $50 million. KTU's price represents a savings in excess of $500 million over the life of the project compared to the prices that were quoted to MoDOT last fall when the department was seeking to launch this program with the contracting team providing private financing and 25-year maintenance.

KTU Constructors is a group of contractors and engineering firms. Kiewit Western Company of Omaha, Neb. is the lead and is joined by Traylor Bros., Inc., of Evansville, Ind., United Contractors, Inc., of Great Falls, S.C., HNTB Corporation of Kansas City, and The LPA Group of Columbia, S.C.

They have commited to completing their work by the end of 2013 -- a full 10 months earlier that required by MoDOT, and to average no more than 45 days closure for each bridge site. That is building at light speed! The normal MoDOT bridge project takes about 90 days.

In the coming weeks, KTU and MoDOT will finalize the design-build contract. KTU has indicated that it will open regional offices around the state to coordinate the complicated logistics associated with the project, and will be seeking Missouri subcontractors and materials suppliers to support their effort.

Besides replacing many of Missouri's worst bridges, Safe & Sound will put people to work. Using the same formula as used by the U.S. government for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act projects, Safe & Sound will support more than 5,300 jobs either directly or indirectly.

To speed construction and to control costs, most of these bridges will be closed for construction. To help motorists, MoDOT has launched an interactive map on its Web site that uses a series of color-coded icons to identify each bridge. Clicking on an icon allows the user to view detour and construction information. At least one of these bridges is located in every one of Missouri's 114 counties.

KTU officials yesterday indicated that once they are up and running, they will be delivering a completed bridge about every two days! That's amazing. They suggested that members of MoDOT's Safe & Sound team may want to purchase new running shoes because they'll be sprinting to keep up with them.

Since MoDOT director Pete Rahn first announced this program in 2006, other states have been watching with interest because a project like this has never been tackled before. Now it's become a reality. Don't be surprised if this type of system-wide bridge improvement project isn't copied by others, because every state struggles with how to manage its inventory of deteriorating bridges.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Use Your Head

One of the reasons I'm proud to work at MoDOT is that I've seen first-hand the passion employees at all levels have for safety. Through work with the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety, I've been privileged to witness this in multiple Missouri organizations, and it's staggering to realize how many individuals are truly dedicated to making sure you and your loved ones arrive home safely each night.

That passion could not be hidden at a news conference yesterday where our director released survey results showing Missourians support a mandatory helmet law by more than a 9-to-1 ratio. He urged Gov. Nixon to veto a recently passed bill from the Missouri legislature amending the state's all-rider helmet law, a law that has saved lives for longer than my own lifetime.

Director Rahn was joined by a trauma surgeon, a motorcycle crash survivor and a doctor who lost his father to a motorcycle crash. The video below shares their comments. I hope you'll take a moment and consider the consequences of repealing Missouri's current helmet law. No matter the outcome, maintain your own passion for safety -- buckle up in your car and wear your helmet if you ride.

What do you want to see on

Hello! Matt Hiebert, MoDOT’s Web Manager here. I’m posting this because I want to get your input on some things. MoDOT’s Web site has more than 6,000 pages. It’s packed with information on projects, road conditions, job openings, MoDOT news, and business guidelines. But we want to know what else you’d like to see. When you visit MoDOT’s Web site at what info do you want available? Blogs dedicated to projects? More detailed contact info? More contests like Name the Train? We want to make sure you’re finding what you need when you need it. Let me know what you think about our current content and what else you want to see. Talk to me, folks!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Look Out! Top Ten Work Zones in Missouri

Just like Late Night With David Letterman, MoDOT has come up with a top 10 list of its own: the top 10 work zones most likely to cause traffic delays this travel season.

The list is ranked in order of impact based on traffic volume, amount of work and level of delay. A clickable map showing the top 10 work zones, along with a printable version of the map and project information, can be found at

Drive Smart and Slow Down in Work Zones!

High-Speed Rail

There was some good media coverage last week out of St. Louis about the Illinois DOT reaching an agreement with Union Pacific on implementing high-speed rail between Chicago - St. Louis. This is good for Missouri's St. Louis - Kansas City service because as their service gets faster and more reliable, it will mean better connections for Missouri riders and more pressure to improve our service. One thing to keep in mind is that the St. Louis - Chicago line has less freight train volume (5-10 trains / day) than our St. Louis - Kansas City line (50-60 trains / day). MoDOT has been a planning partner with Illinois DOT and seven other Mid-western states since 1996 on the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, which provides a template for all improvements being discussed. Illinois's news is good, we wish them well, and will be hopefully following closely behind!

Brian Weiler, MoDOT Multimodal Director

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Great Partners!

I had the opportunity to participate this week in the second annual MoDOT Day at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Jefferson City. Several divisions of MoDOT set up presentations and activities for the eighth graders as part of Partners in Education so they could learn about transportation careers and opportunities in a hands-on, interactive way.

Our community relations group set up a camera and teleprompter to let students record a video that could be used for media or the web. Many had never been in front of a camera like that before and it was great to watch them try out a broadcasting career.

Students also had the chance to sift through dirt in a mini-archeological dig, put together truss bridges, run a quick-click relay race and see just how large those stoplights really are.

Looking forward to next year!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Get Your Buckle On

Buckling up is a habit for me. Even if it weren’t, my car would make sure it was with its constant beeping. In the next few weeks, I will have another reminder – red and blue flashing lights.

Law enforcement officers will be cracking down on unbelted drivers May 18-31 for an aggressive national “Click It or Ticket” campaign.

$10 will buy you two Subway footlongs or one Missouri seat belt ticket. I'd prefer my $5 footlongs (cold cut combo, anyone?).

Wearing a seat belt is the most effective way to reduce injuries and fatalities in a crash because it provides protection from being ejected and keeps motorists from smashing into windshields, dashboards and other passengers. Don’t believe me? Watch this video.

This video has left a permanent imprint on my mind. I make sure everyone else in the car is wearing his or her seat belt. Sometimes this can make for an awkward conversation, but it doesn't have to be. Reminding a friend or family member to buckle up has never been easier.

Follow us on Twitter for updates on Click It or Ticket events, weekly citations and unbuckled fatalities. Buckle up and Arrive Alive!

Friday, May 8, 2009

How much litter could a litter picker pick if a litter picker could pick litter?

As a kid I was always taught to clean up my trash, or hold onto it until I could throw it away. Unfortunately, not everyone waits until they have a trash can handy, and litter can end up along Missouri highways.
The great news is that so many volunteers across the state Adopt-A-Highway in order to keep Missouri roadsides clean. More than 4,000 groups in the state take care of more than 5,700 miles.

Now the St. Louis area is using a cool tool this summer to clean up roadsides safely and efficiently. The Litter Picker can remove retreads, papers, cans, cardboard, cups, wood, road kill and litter. It can hold 50 bags of trash at one time and can cover up to eight acres per hour. The model of the Litter Picker that MoDOT has can be completely operated by one person from a towing tractor.

I wish I could get a smaller version to help pick up all the stray toys at my house.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Get Your Kicks at the I-44 Conway Welcome Center

If you get the urge while motoring west – or east for that matter on Interstate 44, roll into the new Conway Welcome Centers near mile marker 111. The Route 66 themed facilities feature amenities that both casual and commercial travelers enjoy.

I attended the official ribbon cutting for the sites Monday, May 4. Along with hundreds of Route 66 fans, historic car owners and surprised travelers, I boogied to music performed by Conway, Mo., high school students.

After checking out the restroom facilities, I hit the playground, pet areas, and the vending area. Machines offer sandwiches, drinks and snacks – a much better selection than I expected. The picnic shelters seemed the best place to chow down and I had my choice of mini-pavilions built to resemble diners, garages, filling stations and other businesses seen along the “Mother Road”.

Even the parking areas are cool. Dozens of passenger vehicles can park in the car area and drivers of up to 75 large commercial and recreational vehicles can take a break in the large, well-lit “back 40”. My commercial driver friends say that compared to the former rest area at this location, that’s at least three times the number of spaces for them to rest from the road. That’s important. I want everyone driving near me to be well rested and up to the task.

First-day visitors raved about the Route 66 map floor inlay, historical displays and friendly tourist-information aides. While children christened the playground with their antics I heard their elders reminisce about trips taken in years gone by.

Next time you’re traveling on I-44 down from St. Louie or Joplin, Missouri, stop into a modern tribute to a legendary era. It’s so, so pretty!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

New State Transportation Program Presents Uncertain Future

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's proposed five-year transportation improvement program includes good news - many new projects will be built next year, and bad news - ahead is little money for more than taking care of the existing system.

Significant highway and bridge improvements in the first year of the program can be attributed to funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Safe & Sound Bridge Improvement Program. Funding for the new Mississippi River Bridge in St. Louis is also included.

However, by 2011, transportation funding drops by more than half and will continue to fall to only one-third of the 2010 amount in subsequent years. At this point, the Missouri Department of Transportation will struggle to keep existing highways in good shape and will have few dollars to build new roads, bridges or other transportation facilities.

"Stimulus money has helped delay falling off the funding cliff by about 12 to 18 months, but we will still fall off that cliff, and the consequences will be a transportation system that is getting worse instead of better," MoDOT Director Pete Rahn said. "Missourians must have a conversation about the future of transportation in our state."

The draft 2010-2014 Statewide Transportation Improvement Program lists all transportation projects planned by state and regional planning agencies for fiscal years 2010 through 2014 (July 1, 2009 - June 30, 2014). It totals $6.5 billion, with approximately $4.91 billion going to 658 highway and bridge projects, about $960 million to other transportation modes and approximately $660 million to local transportation programs.

"We use a transparent and extensive public involvement process to develop this program, and we have worked with our planning partners from communities around the state to identify and prioritize these new projects," Rahn said.

The proposed program is available for public review beginning May 6. Citizens interested in seeing the program or offering comments can contact MoDOT's customer service centers at 1-888 ASK MODOT (275-6636). The program is also available on MoDOT's Web site - - and at MoDOT's district offices around the state. The formal public comment period ends June 5.

Following the public review, the comments will be presented to the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission. The commission will review the comments and the final transportation program before considering it for approval July 8.

The draft 2010-2014 Statewide Transportation Improvement Program includes transportation improvements identified by metropolitan planning organizations in St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, Columbia, Jefferson City, Joplin and St. Joseph. The STIP projects located in these areas are subject to discussion and approval by the appropriate metropolitan planning organization.