Friday, January 29, 2010

Missouri Captures Millions for High-speed Rail Projects

With the recent addition of a new rail siding at California, Mo., riders of Amtrak’s Missouri River Runner have already been rewarded with much improved on-time performance, but there’s more good news. Missouri captured $31 million in recovery act funds for several high-speed rail projects that will support good jobs and keep the momentum building toward a faster and even more reliable passenger and freight train service.

The recovery act funding will be used for three shovel-ready projects:
• a second rail bridge over the Osage River;
• a universal crossover near the Kirkwood Amtrak station; and
• safety improvements at several rail crossings, primarily west of Sedalia.

It will also fund preliminary engineering on six future improvement projects worth approximately $100 million, including double tracks between Lee’s Summit and Pleasant Hill, a passing siding at Kingsville, a grade separation at Strasburg, a passing siding extension at Knob Noster and universal crossovers – a device that allows trains to crossover to another track in either direction – at Bonnots Mill and Hermann.

Missouri’s success was part of the larger Midwest Regional Rail Initiative’s effort that, as a whole, captured $2.6 billion of the $8 billion in recovery act funds available for high-speed rail corridor improvements.

Tall, Orange and Handsome

Hold onto that steering wheel.

This week, a tall, orange and handsome stranger arrived in Kansas City. Known as Barrel Bob, he began his job this week as a fixture on the kcICON Project, reminding motorists to slow down and take it easy in a work zone.

Barrel Bob won't be a stranger for long -- he has a debut appearance in a PSA about driving safely in the kcICON Corridor. Don't miss it.
Who's behind those barrels? He's the creation of Robert Ohl, a Clarkson Construction employee. Barrel Bob took about 10 hours to build and comes in standard safety gear.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Safe Driving – A Guide to Teaching the New Driver

I’ve had two teens enter the driving arena in the past two years, and I’d like to say I was calm, cool and collected throughout. But lightening would strike. When you take a turn on two wheels or get close enough to the car in front of you to read the fineprint on its bumper sticker, it’s hard to be emotionally level-headed. My son constantly groans, “Mom, I do a fine job when you’re not in the car!” Hmmm . . .

So instead, I’ve turned to the experts at the Department of Revenue to find some sage advice on how to teach a teen to drive. First, they recommend that parents and teens develop an agreement so everyone is clear about the family driving rules and expectations. You can find a sample form on their Web site or you can create your own. What a nifty idea! I wish I would have thought of it.

The revenue department also offers a booklet titled Safe Driving – Guide to Teaching the New Driver. I highly recommend it as a must-read for those with new drivers. Again, I wish I would have thought of it. But I didn’t, so here are my own personal tips, which, while not eloquent, do come from personal experience and may help ease the tension when driving with a teen:
• Set a good example and practice what you preach – speeding, road rage and other bad habits can be learned practices.
• Don’t yell or nag – it’s tempting, but it only makes things worse.
• Be patient – every new task has a learning curve, and this is one that can’t be taken lightly.
• Don’t overload your driver with facts and tips – make comments sparingly and when appropriate or your remarks could be distracting.
• Be positive – compliment your teen on driving the speed limit, signaling in a timely manner, looking both ways before proceeding, etc. Praise works better than criticism.
• Encourage young drivers to speak up for what is safe and right – peer pressure can lead to trouble when teens are behind the wheel.

If nothing else, you can always resort to putting one of those “Student Driver” signs on your vehicle. That will explain everything.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Calculate Your Carbon Footprint

Making a difference in the world usually begins with figuring out how to do it. Often it is not some grand action that can bring change, but a subtle adjustment of our habits and lifestyles. Sometimes the smallest gesture can steer us toward world-changing decisions -- especially if millions of us share that gesture.
 By visiting, visitors to MoDOT’s Web site can get a snapshot of how big an imprint they’re leaving on the planet. They’ll also be connected with links to Missouri’s multimodal options to help them shrink that imprint.
The impact we have on the environment can be measured, especially when it comes to our choices in transportation. Often we make these choices based on convenience or even habit. It’s not that we don’t care what impact we have on the Earth is, it’s just we don’t have time to think about it.
To help people see what effect their transportation choices have on our environment, MoDOT has connected with the Federal Transportation Administration’s "Carbon Footprint Calculator. "

Every journey begins with a single step….so pick a warm and sunny day and walk to work or the store or school when you can. You’ll leave the kind of footprints the Earth can live with.

Monday, January 25, 2010

You Know You're In Missouri When...

"People tell me they know when they drive into Missouri because the roads get better. They used to tell me it was because the roads got worse." -- MoDOT Director Pete Rahn

It wasn't that long ago that less than half of Missouri's highways were considered in good condition. But in the last six years, that number has steadily increased. Now, when you hit the highways in Missouri, you'll find 86 percent of the state's busiest roads in good condition.

Funding from Amendment 3 certainly made a difference. It helped MoDOT make 2,200 miles of the state's most heavily traveled roads smoother and safer, and accelerate or begin projects that were years down the road. Another factor is the Better Roads, Brighter Future program, where hundreds of miles are getting a facelift -- smoother surfaces, wider stripes, brighter signs and paved shoulders.

It may be difficult in the future to keep this up, as dramatic funding decreases loom. But today, it's evident that six years of hard work are truly paying off for Missouri drivers.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Highways Honoring Heroes

The first "Heroes Way" memorial sign to be erected in Missouri under a law passed last year by the Missouri legislature went up this week in St. Louis. The law allows interchanges to be named after service members killed in Iraq or Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001.

Located at the intersection of Interstate 70 and Cave Springs (Exit 225), the sign honors Marine Lance Cpl. Drew Weavers, a St. Charles County native. Weavers was killed Feb. 21, 2008, while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

It's a small tribute when compared with the price paid by those who have given their lives serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Still, highway signs honoring those men and women are a constant and visible reminder of the sacrifices made to preserve our freedom.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How Low Can We Go?

In 1950, it cost 20 cents for a gallon of gas. Today, of course, it's a bit more.

But in some ways, we've got the '50s beat. Missourians are driving five times more miles, and the number of registered vehicles has quadrupled. More importantly, this past year, Missouri highway fatalities were at their lowest point since 1950. For the fourth year in a row, Missouri has reduced its highway fatalities, largely due to the efforts of highway safety advocates in the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety.

With combined efforts of law enforcement, education, emergency medical services and engineering, amazing things can happen.

Coalition members announced today in press conferences across the state that fatality numbers are dropping. The video below includes comments from Missouri State Highway Patrol Superintendent Colonel James F. Keathley and MoDOT Traffic Safety Engineer John Miller.

Still, there is more work to be done. The coalition continues to promote the top strategy to save lives on Missouri roads -- strengthening Missouri's seat belt law to allow for primary enforcement. This would save more than 60 lives each year in Missouri, and that's hard to beat.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

You Text. You're Next.

Texting, talking, eating –we’re all guilty of some sort of driver distraction. But what we might not realize is the deadly consequences our bad driving habits can have. Distracted driving is the leading cause of traffic crashes in Missouri. In 2008 alone, cell phone use was attributed as the cause of 1,788 Missouri traffic crashes.

Last year Missouri made a small step in curbing some of that distracted driving by passing a law prohibiting drivers 21 and under from texting. Five bills have already been filed this year in the Missouri legislature that would expand the texting ban to all drivers.

Yesterday Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood unveiled the first survivor-powered national organization dedicated to putting an end to distracted driving. The group, FocusDriven, grew out of last year’s distracted driving summit sponsored by the US Department of Transportation in Washington. Secretary LaHood also unveiled the 30-second public service announcement below.

Missouri will be launching its own anti-texting while driving campaign next month with new radio spots to raise awareness of the consequences of texting while driving. Those texting spots can be previewed here.

Avoid distractions while driving. Keep your eyes on the road and Arrive Alive.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Message Boards Play Role in Finding Missing Children

The electronic signs that dot our interstates give you critical travel information every day, from upcoming construction work to wintry road conditions.

They can also help end a parent's worst nightmare.

Under the AMBER Alert Plan, area radio and television stations interrupt regular programming to air information about missing children using the Emergency Alert System. MoDOT's message boards play a part, providing a direct and immediate way to reach the public when time is crucial.

Jan. 13 is National Amber Alert Awareness Day, and the dynamic message boards will note this important day to help build awareness for this essential service.

Since it was created in 1996, the AMBER Alert program is credited with the successful recovery of 492 children, and MoDOT is proud to lend a helping hand. You can find more information, including guidelines for having alerts sent to your e-mail or cell phone, at

And The Beet Goes On

After brutal cold and snow-covered roads last week, the recent snow storm seems to be behind us. You could sense that yesterday was back-to-normal, with schools in session and the parking garage full at work. People even seemed to be getting back to those new year's resolutions, as evidenced by the packed YMCA I visited in the evening.

It's great to see the roads clearing up and to know they're safer. But as low as temperatures were last week, did you know that salt was not the only weapon in the snowplow driver's arsenal? For the past few years, MoDOT has also been using an anti-icing product called Geomelt, made from sugar beets.

Your mom was right, vegetables really are good for you, in more ways than one. Combined with salt, the beet juice freezes at a lower temperature than just salt alone so it can be used when the weather is colder - even at temperatures closer to zero.

Adding the beet juice also reduces the corrosive properties of salt and improves its effectiveness - for our vehicles and yours. That means less salt, more efficiency and less equipment, bridge deck and vehicle corrosion.
"Anything that keeps roads safer during extreme temperatures and bad weather means more lives saved," said Jim Carney, MoDOT's State Maintenance Engineer. "Because of the great results we've seen using beet juice, we've increased usage almost 700 percent over the last couple of years."

Beet juice is a natural product that works well when mixed with either rock salt or liquid salt brine to keep ice from forming on the roads before a storm. It also helps melt snow and ice once they are already on the roads.

So keep your mom happy - eat your vegetables, and travel more safely with them, too.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Potential Goods

While Mark Twain's writings show strong ties with the Mississippi River, I think he would be proud of Missouri's efforts to build up communities along the Missouri River as well.

Missourians from a variety of organizations and interests, from MoDOT to agriculture producers, are working to bring more freight to the Missouri River. This could go a long way in reducing congestion on our highways, and is an environmentally friendly way to move large amounts of goods

On the Mississippi, a 15-barge tow is not uncommon. For some perspective, those 15 barges can hold the same amount of cargo as more than 1,000 semi-trailer trucks.
Last month, MoDOT hosted a development forum on bringing freight to the Missouri River. About 90 attendees identified key needs and task forces were created to run a market analysis for river corridor development, as well as examining ways to improve ports and river management. MoDOT will oversee these task forces.

While the waterways are not right for every commodity, they can provide significant relief for crowded roads and rail lines. The extra commerce on the Missouri river could also spur more economic and community growth, making Missouri a more attractive place to live and do business.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Record Cold + Blowing Snow = Cautious Driving

Right now, Missouri seems more hospitable for polar bears than for people. With brutally cold temperatures and snow hitting the state today, it's awfully appealing to just stay home.

But when you need to get out, you need clear, safe roads. And MoDOT is pulling out all the equipment, people and materials needed to make your travel as safe as possible.

It's going to be tougher for this storm. Record cold and blowing snow will make clearing roads more difficult. Temperatures this low mean the salt is not as effective on ice, and the blowing snow could mean it takes longer to clear roads.

We'll add other products like calcium chloride and beet juice to the salt to help it work better as temperatures drop. But there are some additional things you can do to make your travels safe. Your caution and attention is crucial. Please don't crowd the plows or try to pass them -- they're only trying to help. Be sure to buckle up, keep your lights on and don't speed.

And be sure to know before you go. Real-time road conditions are available at the Traveler Information Map. The map shows routes in different colors ranging from clear, to partially covered, covered or closed to travel. You can also call MoDOT's toll-free number, 888-ASK-MODOT, to get road condition information.

Stay warm and stay safe!

Monday, January 4, 2010

2010 Trash-Can Decorating Contest

Are you a teacher looking for a fun and educational classroom project? Or the parent of a K-8 student? Encourage your class or school to participate in the 2010 “Yes You CAN Make Missouri Litter Free” Trash-Can Decorating Contest.

The contest encourages Missouri elementary, middle and home school students K-8 to join in the fight against litter by decorating and displaying a large trashcan with the “No MOre Trash!” logo and a litter-prevention message using a variety of creative media.

Participating classes and groups must submit an entry form and photo of the completed can. There is no entry fee. Schools may submit one entry in each competition category: K-2, 3-5 and 6-8. Only Missouri schools, including home schools, are eligible.

In addition to the educational value of teaching children about the impacts of litter on their lives and the environment, the first-place entry from each competition category receives a $100 award. All first-place winners are eligible for a grand prize of $500 and a trophy. Entries are judged based on creativity, adherence to contest rules and effective use of theme and logo. Deadline for entries is March 1.

The annual contest is sponsored by the Missouri departments of Conservation and Transportation as part of their ongoing “No MOre Trash!” campaign to raise awareness about Missouri's litter problem and to discourage littering.

Pictured is the 2009 grand prize winner, School of the Osage Middle School, Osage Beach.

Contest rules, entry forms, the “No MOre Trash!” logo, 2009 contest winners, facts on litter and educational information are available online at For more information, call 573-522-4115, ext. 3362, or email