Friday, July 27, 2012

One Eye on the Cash, the Other on the Clock

Earlier in July, we learned that MoDOT earned top honors in the Mid-America Regional “America’s Transportation Awards” competition for two projects.

The first, kcICON, won as the large project in the "Ahead of Schedule" category. In addition to widening about five miles of Interstate 29/35 and rebuilding five interchanges, the Kansas City project included the new signature cable-stayed Christopher S. Bond Bridge across the Missouri River.

Construction began in April 2008 and – even with all of that work – was completed in December 2010, more than six months ahead of schedule.

On the other side of Missouri, the St. Louis area’s I-270 Dorsett-Page Project won as the medium project in the “Under Budget” category. Three projects were rolled into one, giant, congestion-relieving undertaking.

It was completed for $2.4 million less than the original $34.8 million budget – and was opened a month ahead of time to boot!

How does this happen? MoDOT and its contracting partners pay very close attention to detail and work as partners through the design and construction phases.

Communities also deserve credit for providing feedback during planning stages and for motorists’ patience and attentive driving during construction.

Working together, MoDOT, contractors and the people of Missouri are able to obtain maximum value from limited transportation dollars.

How do we compare to other states? We’ll get some indication in November when these winning projects compete with those from other regions for national honors at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ annual meeting.

There’s likely to be a People’s Choice component to the competition, so look for your chance to vote soon!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

In Memory Of

Every class has its own crash story.  Whether it’s someone killed during high school or after, they will always be remembered as your classmate.  Not to specifically date myself here, but when I was in high school in the 80’s it seemed inevitable.  Every year you would know someone that died in an automobile crash.  It was accepted as something that just happened and took the lives of young and old every day.  It still robs lives, but we now know that, in most cases, it can be prevented.

I will never forget the date.  Although it’s been over 26 years now, I still recall the events of April 26, 1986.  My best friend and I were playing in an AAU basketball tournament in Farmington, Mo.  We arrived back in town late that evening only to be pulled over by other friends (no cell phones then), and advised that three of our classmates were in a traffic crash, with two of them dying and the third in critical condition.  As a small rural town the community gathered at a local church.  As teenagers we were asking “why”, as we mourned the critical condition and deaths of three outstanding student athletes, and children of our school and community leaders.  The impact of this accident is still felt by many to this date.  It’s something that we will never forget.

Little did I know that years later I would become a safety advocate, fighting to help reduce the serious injuries and fatalities on Missouri’s roadways.  Little did I know that I would be a parent that still remembered that April afternoon and prayed for my own teenager’s safety as I would watch him drive away with friends. 

Why do we wait until tragedy strikes to enforce the mandatory graduated driver license seat belt law on our own teenagers?  We ground them for not doing chores, coming home late, and terrorizing their younger siblings, but what are we doing to make sure their lives are safe on the road?  Why do teens wait until tragedy strikes to adhere to and reinforce this law to their peers?

Traffic crashes remain a leading cause of teen death. As a mom, that terrifies me. As a classmate, that frustrates me. As a safety advocate, that motivates me. Talk to teens - and anyone else you know who isn't a regular seat belt user. Buckling up costs nothing, but can save those who are most precious in the world.

Seven out of 10 Missourian’s killed in a 2011 traffic crash were unbuckled.  Buckle Up.  ARRIVE ALIVE!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Ten Plus Five Reasons You Should Be Riding the Missouri River Runner

We received a great comment about this two-year old post today and decided it called for an update.

So here are the original ten PLUS five new reasons you should ride the Missouri River Runner!

10. We work 7 days a week; Missouri River Runner operates 7 days a week and it is the coolest ride to the Missouri State Fair; the St. Louis Arch; KC BBQ! Matter of fact, tell us your Amtrak travel story on our facebook page ( and let us know if we can share it!

9. We sell the best traveling dogs in the state…hotdogs that is, you can eat and ride on our Missouri River Runner.

8. All your friends are doing it; Ridership is up, up up!

7. Amtrak’s Customer Service Index indicated that we are third in the nation on their customer service chart, so relax, rest assured we will get you there.

6. Can you say Day trip? You can easily travel with your friends on the Missouri River Runner with a day trip into Washington, Hermann, Warrensburg, Sedalia...!

5. We collect cans! For a program that helps Capitol City Habitat for Humanity and Amtrak build a home for the needy. Read our Press Release.

4. What a view of the Missouri River you’re going to have!

3. Riding Amtrak qualifies you as being "An Earth Air Pollution Avenger" because riding Amtrak will help save us all from air pollution. Wear your title well, hero.

2. You can get your work done while riding; internet hot spots and AC jacks are available in most unfortunately this will mean you will no longer have any excuse for not getting your work done while traveling for your boss, so now you will have to make up new ones. ;)

1. Be stress free, we will get you there on time! On-time performance is at an average of 92 percent for the year!

The Man Dawg added these five fabulous attractions to our list. Thanks, Man Dawg!

#11 Independence Mo-Santa Cali-Gon Days

#12 Kansas City Airshow

#13 Warrensburg Mo-Wings Over Whiteman Airshow

#14 Hermann Mo-

#15 Sedalia Mo- Missouri State Fair!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Scootch for Safety

That cheer you heard the afternoon of July 9 came from the 2,400 MoDOT employees who regularly work on Missouri highways.

Governor Jay Nixon signed Senate Bill 611 into law. This law goes into effect August 28 and expands the 2002 “Slow Down and Move Over” statute that protects law enforcement and emergency response vehicles parked on the side of the road.

So come next month, motorists must slow down or change lanes when approaching MoDOT vehicles parked on the side of the highway with amber and white lights flashing – just like we drivers already do when there’s an ambulance, Patrol, police or sheriff’s car on the shoulder.

With the drastic drop in MoDOT’s construction budget, my coworkers are pretty much in a maintenance-only mode. It’s likely you’ll see more crews next to or on the road as they attempt to take care of Missouri’s existing system of highways and bridges, rather than building new lanes and structures.

Let’s do them a favor. The law takes effect in late August. How about we spend the next several weeks practicing?

When you see a MoDOT vehicle on the side of the highway, either change lanes or slow down. You’ll be doing your part to help hard-working folks get home in one piece.

And to those of you who have always moved over or slowed for MoDOT workers – or anyone on the shoulder – we noticed. We appreciate your concern for our safety and thank you.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A View from the Locomotive

My first job out of college was with a large freight railroad company. One of the best experiences I had was the week I was able to experience rail operations first hand.

I got to run a railroad.

Okay, it was only a 13-mile shortline that is wholly owned by my former employer. It was dinky. I didn’t care if it was 1,300 miles. I got to get up and run an engine!

A typical train hauls thousands
of tons of freight.

My companions and I jacked rail, replaced ties and pounded spikes. We coupled cars to the train and pulled them apart. We rode in the locomotive cab or we stood on the walkway of the engine as it hauled cars to local businesses. It was fabulous, filthy, hard work.

When it was my turn to sit at the controls of the small locomotive my adrenaline surged. It was only a 1,500 horsepower switch engine and weighed just a smidge over 100 tons. It was little for a locomotive, but it was the largest machine I ever hope to control.

We spent hours in the yard, practicing with the throttle, learning how much power to give in order to reach a specific spot. We controlled the location of the train exactly the way real engineers do - by manipulating the energy of the traction motors and understanding how the weight of the cars affect stopping distance.

So imagine how freaked out I was when cars crossed just yards ahead of us as we rode along on a trip out to the main line. I’d just spent the day watching a four-car train roll on at length after cutting the throttle – and occasionally stomping on a non-existent brake pedal.

My yells mixed with the train’s horn when we came across a family taking a stroll on the tracks.

“People!” I wanted to scream. “Don’t you have any sense? This train could crush you!”

I’d read many company reports about situations like this. They described people maimed and killed. Bodies mangled, pinched or struck into mist. And there wasn’t a thing I could do about the folks on the rail in front of me.

The crew of instructors noticed my horror.

“We see this every day,” they said. “People take chances like this all the time.” They don’t like to talk about the times it doesn’t end well – nightmarish incidents they were helpless to stop. When they do open up, train crews can describe every detail. They never forget the car or truck stalled on the track, the hunter who was trapped on a rail bridge, the teen listening to tunes as she walked between the rails. They don’t like to talk about it – but they do – hoping people will listen.

*** This is where I'd planned to end this blog post. Then I opened the newspaper. It's happened again. ***

In the past several weeks four Missouri teens have died in train incidents. In two separate incidents, young men did not hear the trains that killed them because their ears were filled with music and earbuds. Two young ladies perished when their car refused to start after they'd parked on the tracks at a crossing in order to spook themselves by playing out a local legend. Three tragedies and four lives ended.

Talk. Talk to teens. Talk to adults. Talk to anyone you know who walks on or around rail tracks.

Railroad tracks are not pedestrian paths. They are industrial, private property where large machines operate.
If you must cross them, cross them quickly.

Use your senses. Look for a train. Keep your ears clear so you can hear them approach. Don't ignore rumbles or vibrations.

Look. Listen. Live.