Thursday, December 31, 2009

Be Prepared

As the New Year kicks off, it never hurts to be prepared.

MoDOT is helping first responders with some preparation for 2010 by sponsoring training for those who would most likely be the first on the scene for an aircraft crash or other airport emergency.

Participants learn techniques specific to aircraft emergencies. They learn vital information about aircraft, such as where to turn off electrical equipment and the location of the aircraft fuel tanks.

The training is funded through a State Aviation Trust Fund grant administered by MoDOT and is free of charge to participants.

Additional classes are coming up for the winter months, so emergency responders in your area can be prepared.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Gifts I am Thankful For

It may sound odd, but two things I am immensely grateful for this holiday season (besides my new Wii fit) are median guard cable and emergency reference markers. The day after Christmas, my family and I traveled to northwest Missouri, and on the way, we counted 40 cars either stuck in the median or off the side of the road in the ditch.

Many of those vehicles were sitting in median guard cable. Sure, they were going to have a big repair bill for their vehicles – but they were alive to make the 911 calls. My husband asked, “How many lives has that guard cable saved already?” That’s the big question. Conservative estimates say we save about 40 lives a year with the cable. That’s certainly worth celebrating.

One of the accidents we came across happened right before we got there. Without knowing if the folks in the vehicle had their cell phones handy or not, I made the call. I knew to look for the emergency reference marker on the side of the road and easily was able to tell the Patrol the exact location of the incident. Located every tenth of a mile, the markers help emergency responders find incidents more quickly, and they also help to mark the edge of the pavement for motorists. As we all know, every second can be critical when responding to traffic crashes.

They don't fit under the tree, but because of median guard cable and emergency reference markers, more people made it safely to their holiday destinations this year, and for those gifts we should all be thankful.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Truck Stops Here

It never fails. When Dearest Husband and I are taking a trip, I’m always the one who calls for a rest stop. I’ve got the locations of many rest areas committed to memory.

I know that the welcome center at Conway (I-44) has a springy surface under the play equipment. (It’s fun to walk on.) The Wright City (I-70) rest area was the first place I experienced a hands-free hand wash. At Eagleville (I-35), I gape at the amazing mosaic mural.

The truckers who share Missouri’s highways commit these locations to memory, too. They have to. Drivers are limited to a specific number of hours they can work before they must pull over to rest. If they don’t, they violate federal safety rules and take a hit to the wallet, so finding a place to park and rest is an important part of the job.

Imagine what would happen if suddenly, rest areas and welcome centers closed. That’s going on in some states that have budget issues. There, drivers have to spend time looking for a spot to stop before their work time is up for the day – giving up miles of progress to stay on the good side of the law.

It’s a different story in Missouri. During the past nine years, MoDOT increased truck parking spaces 45 percent. More are on the way. When rest areas and welcome centers are built, MoDOT tries to make room for as many truck/recreational vehicle spots as possible. When rest areas and weigh stations are decommissioned, paved areas are rechristened as truck parking areas.

Drivers know that there are a lot of good, safe spots to rest in Missouri. Here they can make productive use of drive time and reduce their costs.

So it turns out that what’s good for professional drivers is good for my pocketbook…and my traveling comfort!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Santa in the Air

According to NORAD, Santa is already on his way. Luckily for Missourians, his flight options have expanded in the state.

The new Branson West Airport opened to air traffic on Dec. 15. The aiport, owned by the City of Branson west, includes a 5,000-foot runway capable of handling corporate aircraft, a full-length parallel taxiway, an aircraft-parking apron and T-hangar taxi lanes. The city continues to work on completing storage hangars, a maintenance and terminal facility, an automated weather station and other capabilities. A grand opening is planned next summer.

While many people think only of the airports in larger cities, Santa has lots of options in Missouri. MoDOT works with more than 120 public-use airports in the state, administering federal funding, conducting safety inspections and providing safety equipment -- sometimes reindeer food. In 2008, there were more than one million take-offs and landing in Missouri.

An important Christmas fact: More than 160,000 tons of cargo are transported by air in Missouri each year. It's top secret how much of that comes from Santa's sleigh.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Spirit of Giving

At this time of year, it's easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of Christmas. There are presents to buy and wrap, food to be made and travel plans to adhere to.

But for some, the holidays don't have this same look or feel. That's why the news in the days surrounding Christmas is full of heart-warming stories of generosity and giving.

Missouri Department of Transportation employees are among those who have opened their hearts and wallets to those less fortunate. For the third year in a row, MoDOT contributed the greatest amount to the annual Missouri State Employees Charitable Campaign. MoDOT employees donated $217,614, making MoDOT the first state agency to surpass the $200,000 mark in the 25-year history of the campaign.

And they weren't alone. Overall, Missouri state employees broke last year's record contributions by raising more than $1.25 million for local, state and national non-profit organizations.

And more than 1,100 charities and the people they serve are better off this holiday season as a result.

The True Heart of Christmas

What do you look forward to this holiday season? My kids and I made a list: baking cookies, looking at Christmas lights, watching favorite holiday movies, visiting Santa, decorating a Gingerbread house, sledding (if possible), singing Christmas carols and reading ‘The Best Christmas Pageant Ever’ just to name a few. It’s the time with family and friends that make this time of year so special.

But what would you do if it was all taken away by a drunk driver? All it would take would be for one person to drink and drive and you or someone you love to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The holidays this year will mark the one-year anniversary of a tragic highway fatality for 19 Missouri families. In 2008, from Christmas Eve through New Year’s weekend, 19 people were killed and 41 injured in traffic crashes on Missouri roads involving an impaired driver.

Help ensure your family and friends don’t suffer the same fate, and give the gift of a safe lift. Send a Designated Driver Gift Card and serve as the sober driver to ensure your family and friends make it home safe and avoid a DWI arrest. The gift cards, distributed by the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety, can be sent electronically at

And besides promising to never drive impaired, make a new year's resolution to always wear your seat belt. Over 70% of people killed in Missouri traffic crashes are unbuckled. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, regular seat belt use is the single most effective way to protect people and reduce fatalities in motor vehicle crashes.

So remember that the true heart of Christmas is thinking of others first. Don’t drink and drive and please wear your seat belt. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year’s, and safe travels to all.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Traveler Information Map Makes Trip to Grandma's House Easier

Well the weather outside is...great actually. Unseasonably warm, kind of sunny. But if you’ve lived in Missouri for a while, you know that trend can turn on a dime.

On Christmas Day things are supposed to get soggy. Snow and other precipitation are forecast for some parts of the state. If you’re going to be on the road for the holidays, give yourself a little stocking stuffer and visit MoDOT’s Traveler Information Map before you leave your house.

Most of you who follow this blog have heard me go on and on about our award-winning, nationally recognized, super cool online road conditions map -- so this message is repetitive. But if you know anyone from out-of-state (or who’s not as web savvy as you) please tell them about it.

The Traveler Information Map gives up-to-the minute road conditions for all major routes MoDOT maintains. It gives you a good idea of what waits for you ahead and can even help you decide whether you should travel or wait a bit.

So, while your trip to Grandma’s may be easy (except for the kids fighting in the back seat), your return journey may be wet, cold and a bit slick. Make sure you know what’s in front of you by visiting and clicking on the big state map in the middle of the page.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Top Ten for 2009

Making lists is popular this time of year, whether it’s for holiday shopping, a year-in-review list or the things you’re pledging to do (or not do) in the new year.

Topping MoDOT's accomplishment list this year is a drop in highway fatalities for the fourth year in a row. The completion of I-64 and first-in-the-nation status aren't too shabby, either. Watch below to see MoDOT's "Top Ten" for 2009, and send your comments on what you'd like to see in 2010.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Passion for Protection

Passion for protection

As the mother of three kids, I’ve lightly dabbled in the arena where teachers excel -- the classroom. I’ve taught Sunday school, and watched the occasional classroom full of kids while a teacher goes to lunch. I’ve also coaxed my 6-year-old son to write 10 words on a piece of paper in a single sitting. Good teachers are a gift.

Last weekend, we lost one of our chosen few in a car crash when a 29 year-old Nixa elementary school teacher was killed after being partially ejected from her vehicle; she wasn’t wearing a seat belt.

Missouri’s state legislature has failed to pass a primary seat belt law. However, odd as it may seem, Nixa, a small town just south of Springfield is among 12 cities that have now passed their own city primary seat belt ordinances. In those cities drivers can be pulled over solely for not wearing their seat belt. Fines range from $10 and up and include city court costs. In Nixa, the cost of a seat belt ticket is about $75.

Willard, another southwest Missouri town passed their city ordinance on Monday, Dec. 14, just after the teacher from Nixa elementary was killed. The timing is a chilling coincidence.

Other towns in Missouri with primary seat belt ordinances include Ava, St. Louis County, Creve Coeur, Ballwin, Weston, Merriam Woods, St. John, Willow Springs, Chesterfield and Herculaneum. Many of them site crash statistics in the area as the reason they’ve taken matters into their own hands, in the absence of action on the state level. Often it is the passion of a victim’s family member or friend that helps to get things moving. Possibly something like the unnecessary death of a beloved young teacher who touched the lives of so many kids.

Laws can help protect real people, so can your seat belt. Please buckle up!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Fun on the Highway!

Missourians had a chance to walk, run, jump and even play cards on the New I-64 in St. Louis on Dec. 6. The video below gives you some reactions from residents and a look at the offical ribbon cutting.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Hold That Message

Looks like a ban on texting while driving will be a hot topic again this legislative season. Three Missouri lawmakers have already filed texting while driving bills for the January legislative session. All three bills would make texting while driving illegal for all drivers, regardless of age.

Texting while driving is one of the most dangerous things you can do while on the road. Missouri’s current law prohibits those 21 years old and younger from texting behind the wheel.

In addition, MoDOT recently banned employees from texting while driving work vehicles. The ban also applies to personal vehicles when on-the-job.

Texting drivers spend 400% more time with their eyes off the road. A recent study from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that truck drivers face a 23 times greater risk of crash or near crash when texting than when not doing so.

Even if you’re willing to take the risk of injuring or killing yourself, you’re not the only one at risk. You could injure or kill someone else. Eighty percent of all crashes involve some sort of driver distraction.

It’s important for drivers to focus their full attention on their driving. Texting is a dangerous distraction that takes away the driver's attention from the task at hand which is driving. An all-driver texting ban is another positive step in reducing driving distractions.

What are your thoughts: do you support an all-driver texting ban?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Passing Lane for Trains

The eastbound Amtrak Missouri River Runner train whizzed by California City Hall just minutes before a dedication ceremony kicked off to officially open a new railroad side track located just west of California, Mo. The $8.1 million, 9,000-foot track enables two trains to pass.

The project was completed on time and under budget. It has helped unclog a major “bottleneck” caused by a 25-mile stretch of single track between Kansas City and Jefferson City. The new passing lane for trains allows a slower moving freight train to move off the main line so faster Amtrak trains can pass.

The side rail is estimated to reduce passenger train delays by nearly 17 percent per year. In fact, two out of the first three weeks it has been open, Amtrak trains have achieved a 100 percent on-time rate – the first time ever. Plus, ridership on the corridor is up 30 percent from 2007.

Union Pacific, Amtrak, MoDOT and the state of Missouri worked in partnership on this project to help increase capacity on the St. Louis to Kansas City corridor. Funding came from a $5 million allocation specifically for rail development from the Missouri General Assembly and a $3.1 million grant through the Federal Railroad Administration.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

100 Percent On Time!

One-hundred percent on time! That’s the exciting news MoDOT gets to report for Amtrak trains during the Thanksgiving holiday week. All four Missouri River Runner trains that carry passengers from Kansas City to St. Louis and vice versa arrived safely and on time from Tuesday, Nov. 24 through Monday, Nov. 30. Nearly every single person to whom I announced this news had the same reaction, “One-hundred percent on time? I’ve never heard that before.”

Exactly. Rodney Massman, Administrator of Railroads for MoDOT told me that in his entire career (which spans more than a decade) he has never been able to report a 100 percent on-time performance. In fact, Massman told me that in as recent as last year, the on-time performance was hovering in the 60 percent range.

So how in the world can this be? How can Amtrak trains crossing the entire show me state arrive on time and do this during the busiest travel week of the year?

The passenger-friendly answer is called the California Siding Project. MoDOT, Union Pacific, and Amtrak found the place that created the biggest bottleneck problem along the entire 275-mile rail corridor -- California, Mo. It was there that a 25-mile-long stretch of single track rested that forced delays due to trains not being able to pass one another. Well, not anymore. The California Siding Project laid down 9,000 feet, nearly two miles, of additional track next to the main corridor. This will now allow freight trains to be set aside in California so that Amtrak passenger trains can glide through without stopping.

The really neat thing about this is the California Siding Project was just finished on Nov. 20… meaning its first test was the super-busy Thanksgiving holiday week! Talk about a promising project! Its first time on the job and already it hits a 100 percent on-time performance. That's a great talking point for MoDOT Director Pete Rahn, who is scheduled to officially announce the opening of the California Siding Project on  Dec. 8 at 10 a.m.

May We Have Your Attention Please!

Winter is still around the corner, but winter weather is already upon us. As temperatures drop and precipitation falls, Missouri roads need some attention … And not just attention from MoDOT!

As a driver, you should turn your attention to state road conditions by visiting MoDOT’s Traveler Information Map at:

The map gives web visitors current road condition information so they can decide whether or not to drive on Missouri roads. Drivers can see if roads are clear, partly covered, covered or closed due to snow and ice. The map also gives info on incidents, work zones and flooding for a complete snapshot of what a highway driver can expect before they leave the comfort of their home.

Of course, the map only shows the major routes that MoDOT maintains -- and weather conditions can change in an instant -- so travelers need to also pay attention to local news and any other reports on weather-related road conditions.

In the mean time, you can “know before you go” by clicking on the big state map in the center of MoDOT’s homepage. It’s your first stop for info on Missouri highways.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Making a Difference

"Pete Rahn is one of the country's most innovative transportation officials," according to Governing magazine who named him as one of their 2009 Public Officials of the Year. Rahn's willingness to take risks and his desire to make a difference helped him become the first state transportation director to earn this national honor in the 23-year history of the award.

Watch the video below to learn more about this honor and the other 2009 recipients.