Transportation & Passenger Rail
Ridership on Midwest’s state-supported lines has dropped over past five years
Ridership on seven of nine state-supported Amtrak routes in the Midwest has grown by leaps and bounds over the last 10 fiscal years, but has dropped during the last five — a situation that state officials attribute at least in part to construction projects that aim to increase ridership and improve travel times over the long term. More »
State-of-art locomotives on way to region as part of federal grant to modernize rail fleets
The latest tangible sign of high-speed passenger rail service in the Midwest should arrive before the year is out: New, state-of-the-art “Charger” locomotives are ready for delivery, attendees of the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission’s annual meeting were told in September. They’re part of a $268 million Federal Railroad Administration grant to the Midwest to replace aging locomotives and railcars with modern equipment capable of high-speed operations along eight state-supported routes in the region. More »
Road to widespread use of driverless cars will go through states and their legislatures
Legislative action in the Midwest on autonomous vehicles has only just begun, with Michigan leading the way so far. If driverless cars become commonplace, they will have a big impact on states — from traffic safety and congestion, to improved mobllity for the elderly and disabled. More »
Proposed rail line would add freight alternative in Midwest, but has run into local opposition
If the plans of a group of investors called Great Lakes Basin Transportation get the go-ahead, the Midwest could soon be home to the nation’s largest new railroad project in more than a century. The idea behind this proposed 278-mile rail line is to allow some freight traffic to bypass the Chicago rail yards, where congestion caused by the greatest density of rail lines in the world can tie up freight for 30 hours But the proposal faces many hurdles, including concerns being raised by some local communities and their state legislators. More »
Survey shows room for passenger rail use to grow on region's college campuses
The Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission’s new Universities & Colleges Passenger Rail Survey of students, faculty and staff at 30 colleges and universities across the Midwest about passenger rail service presents good news both for current service and its growth potential. The survey, conducted between November 2015 and February 2016, finds there is a small but dedicated group who ride trains regularly to and from school, and a wider group open to taking the train. More »
Proposals would use state budget reserves to fund road projects
Governors in two Midwestern states are asking legislators to consider using a new source for funding transportation projects — state budget reserves.
In Nebraska, Gov. Pete Ricketts has proposed creation of a transportation infrastructure bank to accelerate the completion of highway repairs, fix county bridges, and fund projects that help new or expanding businesses. Under LB 960, up to $150 million in cash reserves would be transferred to the infrastructure bank. According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, Nebraska is one of four Midwestern states (along with Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota) that relies entirely on a “pay as you go” model for transportation funding (no bonding).
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s $1 billion plan for roads and bridges includes using about $241 million in budget reserves. But legislators are also considering competing proposals. HB 1001, approved by a House committee in January, would increase the state’s cigarette and gas taxes, The Indianapolis Star reports. (This plan would also direct “excess budget reserves” to transportation projects.)
Last year, four Midwestern states (Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska and South Dakota) raised their gas taxes.
In 2015, legislatures in four Midwest states boosted funding for roads
Four state legislatures in the Midwest made major moves on transportation policy this year, adopting increases in motor fuel taxes that in some cases had been left unchanged for more than a decade. This decision to boost funding for roads and bridges was one of the region’s more notable legislative trends from the past year.
Several factors, transportation experts say, caused 2015 to be a breakthrough year for transportation measures — lower gas prices, growing shortfalls in state transportation funds, gubernatorial and legislative leadership, and the support of key business groups. More »
With rail congestion in Chicago hub a drag on U.S. economy, Amtrak panel proposes a fix
An estimated 25 percent of all of the nation’s rail traffic goes through Chicago, where 56 Amtrak trains originate or terminate every day and where six of the nation’s seven largest railroads converge.
But the Midwest’s largest city isn’t just a hub of rail transportation; it’s also known as a major “chokepoint”: a source of gridlock, poor on-time performance and dispatching problems. In October, Amtrak’s Chicago Gateway Blue Ribbon Panel released its recommendations for loosening the Chicago “chokepoint,” which poses a larger economic vulnerability to the U.S. economy than any other major rail hub. (A panel-commissioned study estimated that up to $799 billion in annual gross domestic product depends on freight rail service through Chicago.) More »
Iowa becomes first state to test use of digital driver’s license
If all goes well with a pilot program launched this summer, Iowa may soon be the nation’s first state to offer digital driver’s licenses to residents. “This is an important first step in creating a one-person, one-identity, one-credential opportunity for our customers,” state Department of Transportation director Paul Trombino says.
He adds that Iowa’s experience could help other states launch similar programs.
The software, created by MorphoTrust USA, creates a driver’s license that people can access via their smartphones. It also allows for digital updates of DOT information about a driver — for example, change of address, age, license restrictions and organ-donor status.
Makers of the new software say it “carries the same level of trust as its physical counterpart, the driver license/ID card,” with visible and covert security features that are linked and layered in the digital image seen on screen.
For now, Iowa’s Mobile Identity Application program is being used by a group of DOT employees, who are testing use of the digital driver’s license in situations when a physical license is typically presented.
New binational standards aim to improve safety of oil shipments by rail
Two years ago, an explosive fire caused by a rail tanker car carrying crude oil took 47 lives and destroyed much of the downtown Québec city of Lac Megantic. A number of nonfatal fires involving oil-carrying trains have followed, most recently this year in Illinois and North Dakota. These incidents have raised safety concerns on both sides of the border, as well as this question: What can governments do to prevent the accidents from occurring? This spring, a mix of new federal and state standards were unveiled that set new rules for tanker cars and what is being loaded on them. More »
Nebraska paves way for some immigrants to get driver's licenses
by Tim Anderson ~ June 2015 ~ Stateline Midwest »
The Nebraska Unicameral Legislature's override of a gubernatorial veto will give certain immigrants access to state driver's licenses. LB 623 covers immigrants who have been granted "deferred action" status by the federal government.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, applies to individuals under the age of 31 who came to this country before their 16th birthday. According to the National Immigration Law Center, Nebraska is one of only two U.S. states where DACA recipients have been denied driver's licenses. (Arizona is the other state, and a district court ended that policy earlier this year.)
Nebraska Gov. Tom Ricketts vetoed LB 623 because it would require the state to issue driver's licenses to more immigrants if the federal government expands deferred action. President Obama, for example, wants to make the parents of childhood arrivals eligible. His executive action has been halted due to recent court rulings in a lawsuit brought by multiple states, including Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
Illinois is currently the only Midwestern state that offers a driver's license to residents regardless of immigration status.
Three states in Midwest establish new rules on ride-sharing services
by Tim Anderson ~ June 2015 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Indiana, Kansas and Wisconsin have joined the growing number of states with new rules to govern ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft.
These services now operate in at least 30 metropolitan areas in the Midwest. They allow individuals needing a ride to connect with a driver via an application on a smartphone or other Internet-enabled device. The driver’s personal vehicle is used for the service.
For a brief time in Kansas, Uber halted operations due to its opposition to SB 117, a bill that passed the Legislature and then withstood a gubernatorial veto. The company’s concerns centered on requirements that drivers submit to criminal background checks and carry additional auto insurance. But services soon returned to Kansas with passage of SB 101, which has licensing and insurance requirements acceptable to Uber. The company also supported measures passed this year in Indiana (HB 1278) and Wisconsin (AB 143).
These laws include requirements that ride-sharing companies check driving records, have zero-tolerance alcohol policies, and disclose fare information on their websites. One concern raised about the Wisconsin law is that it bars local communities from setting their own regulations.
Michigan voters reject legislative plan to boost road funding
Michigan voters have put the brakes on a $1.2 billion plan to raise taxes in order to invest more in the state’s roads and bridges.
The plan, approved by the Legislature in late 2014 as a constitutional amendment, was soundly defeated at the polls — by a margin of 80 percent to 20 percent. According to the Detroit Free Press, that marks the most lopsided loss of any proposed amendment to the 52-year-old Michigan Constitution.
The measure would have increased the state’s general sales tax (by 1 cent), raised vehicle-registration fees and established a wholesale gasoline/diesel tax (in place of the per-gallon tax).
As of April, tax increases for roads had been signed into law in two Midwestern states. Iowa’s SF 257 increased the gas and diesel tax by 10 cents (to 31 cents for gas and 22.5 cents for diesel). South Dakota’s SB 1 includes a 6-cent-per-gallon gas and ethyl alcohol increase, a 1 percent increase in the motor vehicle excise tax, and a 20 percent increase in license-plate fees.
Most states still rely heavily on a per-gallon gas tax to pay for roads, though Nebraska does levy a wholesale sales tax as part of its road-funding formula.
Route connecting two major Midwest cities nearly closed due to state-federal dispute
Every week, hundreds of rail passengers travel on the Hoosier State, a train that runs four days a week between Indianapolis and Chicago.
For a time this spring, though, it appeared those travelers would be left without a train to ride. Before the state of Indiana and Federal Rail Administration reached an understanding in early April, a dispute between them threatened to end service on the Hoosier State. More »
Iowa adopts 10-cent hike in gas tax — first increase in 26 years
Iowa became the first state in the Midwest this year to approve a plan to raise taxes for roads, but it may not be the last.
According to The Des Moines Register, Iowa’s SF 257 increased the gas and diesel tax by 10 cents (to 31 cents for gas and 22.5 cents for diesel). It will bring in an additional $215 million annually for city, county and state roads. The gas tax in Iowa hadn’t been raised since 1989; the new rates took effect March 1.
Meanwhile, during the final days of its 2015 session, the South Dakota Legislature was considering a proposal to increase the gas tax by 2 cents annually. Different proposals called for that yearly increase to take place with no statutory end date, or over a set period of time: 15 years, eight years or three years, depending on the proposal. (A final decision on the gas tax increase had not been made as of early March.) The state’s current tax on gasoline and diesel is 22 cents per gallon.
In May, Michigan voters will decide the fate of a legislative proposal to increase transportation funding by $1.2 billion a year. If approved, the plan would increase the state’s general sales tax (by 1 cent), raise vehicle-registration fees, and establish a wholesale gasoline/diesel tax (in place of the per-gallon tax).
What states require individuals to have auto insurance, and do they provide any exemptions to this mandate?
Most U.S. states, and all in the Midwest, require motorists to have auto insurance. According to the Insurance Information Institute, New Hampshire is currently the only state where auto liability insurance is not compulsory. In that state, drivers can go without coverage by demonstrating they have sufficient funds in the event of an at-fault accident. More »
Down the funding road again:
In states such as Iowa, Michigan and South Dakota, legislators appear closer to finding solutions to transportation shortfalls
As the new legislative year begins, a years-old problem will once again be on the minds and agendas of lawmakers in several of the Midwest’s capitols: How can we raise more revenue for our ailing roads and bridges, and close shortfalls in our highway funds? Early signs point to a busy, and potentially productive, few months ahead. More »
New oil regulations in North Dakota aim to improve rail safety
by Tim Anderson ~ January 2015 ~ Stateline Midwest »
In August of last year, monthly oil production in North Dakota reached yet another milestone. For the first time, more than 35 million barrels of oil were being produced. Just seven years ago, monthly production in the state was below 4 million barrels.
Over the past several years, too, a big change has occurred in how North Dakota’s oil is transported. Most of it now moves out of the state by rail rather than pipeline, and this shift has raised safety concerns inside and outside of North Dakota — especially in light of recent serious accidents and explosions involving oil tanker cars in the United States and Canada.
In December, North Dakota’s three-member Industrial Commission adopted new regulations to address some of those concerns. The state will now require well operators to meet a series of standards for the conditioning equipment that they use to separate volatile gases from crude oil, The Bismarck Tribune reports. The penalty for noncompliance will be up to $12,500 per day, and in his proposed biennial budget, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple calls for more staff to enforce the regulations.
According to the Association of American Railroads, as of mid-2014, about 750,000 barrels of oil were being shipped out of North Dakota by rail every day.
In Ohio, new law likely to end use of speed, red-light cameras
by Tim Anderson ~ January 2015 ~ Stateline Midwest »
In one of the last bills it passed in 2014, the Ohio General Assembly has placed new restrictions on local governments’ use of cameras to detect and enforce traffic violations.
SB 342, signed into law in December, requires a police officer to be present at the location where a traffic camera is in operation. According to The Columbus Dispatch, this statutory change is expected to make the use of red-light and speed cameras financially infeasible for Ohio cities.
At least one state in the Midwest, Wisconsin, has an outright ban on the use of red-light and speed cameras, according to the Governors Highway Safety Administration. Last year, South Dakota legislators passed HB 1100, which prevents state and local governments from entering into a contract with a “private corporation” for the purpose of using red-light cameras.
Other Midwestern states do not have bans on traffic cameras. And in Illinois and Iowa, some local governments have adopted ordinances or programs to operate these devices. The use of these traffic cameras in an Iowa border town led the South Dakota Legislature last year to pass HB 1122, which restricts the state from sharing information with other states seeking to enforce civil penalties in traffic-camera cases.
TIGER grants help keep passenger trains running in part of Kansas, evan as federal funding for rail transportation wanes
For states interested in partnering with the federal government on capital improvements to passenger rail, the current options are severely limited.
Since fiscal year 2011, the High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail program has not been funded by the U.S. Congress. That leaves only one funding source, TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery), which funds an array of transportation-related projects thought to have a significant impact on the nation, a region or a metropolitan area. In the most recent round of TIGER funding, only one passenger-rail improvement project successfully secured a grant — $12.5 million to upgrade parts of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief route in Kansas and Colorado. Matching funds of $9.3 million will come from a mix of state, local and private sources. More »
How are states and localities regulating ride-sharing services?
by Laura Tomaka ~ November 2014 ~ Question of the Month »
In just a few short years, the presence of ride-sharing companies such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar has spread to more than 60 metropolitan areas across the country — 15 of which are in the Midwest. A few states, none in the Midwest, have recently decided to regulate these ride-sharing companies. More »
First in the Midwest: A look at Indiana's early leading role in the nation's fight against drunk driving
Although blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, limits have long served as the foundation of drunk-driving laws across the country, it wasn’t until decades after the American love affair with automobiles began that technological advances made it possible for intoxication to be defined by objectively measurable blood alcohol levels. The state of Indiana led the way in advancing the technologies and policies. More »
What states in the Midwest have toll roads and how much revenue is collected from them?
Illinois, Indiana, Kansas and Ohio have toll roads on part of their interstate highway systems, and a fifth Midwestern state, Minnesota, now offers express toll lanes to motorists who use some of the highly traveled interstates in the Twin Cities area. More »
South Dakota signals opposition to Iowa’s use of traffic cameras
In the eastern Iowa town of Sioux City, police have installed red-light cameras at several intersections as well as speed cameras on Interstate 29.
But when motorists in one neighboring state are caught on camera breaking a traffic law, Sioux City police may have a difficult time collecting the fine. HB 1122, passed this year by the South Dakota Legislature, restricts the state from sharing information with other states seeking driver’s license data to enforce civil penalties in traffic-camera cases.
Also this year, the South Dakota Legislature prohibited the use of red-light cameras within the state’s borders (HB 1100). According to the Governors Highway Safety Administration, Wisconsin is the other state in the Midwest with an outright ban.
Red-light or speed cameras are only used in a handful of the region’s states: Illinois, Iowa and Ohio. In Iowa, legislation was introduced this year to ban the use of traffic cameras. It failed to advance, but the Department of Transportation has established rules that require jurisdictions to justify their use on state roads. A bill passed by the Ohio House in May (SB 342) would allow traffic-camera tickets to be issued only when a law enforcement officer is also present.
From free Wi-Fi to purchase of new 125-mph trains, upgrades to Midwest’s rail service continues
In February, free Wi-Fi service began on most Amtrak trains that operate on the Midwest’s shorter-distance, state-funded “corridor” routes.
Within the next few years, some of these routes will also have new high-performance trains. These modern train sets will be capable of 125-mph speeds and will offer improved fuel efficiency and reliability compared to the 40-year-old equipment now in use. More »
How many states have banned the use of handheld cellphones while driving?
As of mid-April, 12 U.S. states had general statutory bans on drivers’ use of handheld cellphones, including Illinois in the Midwest, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. More »
Ohio plans on more borrowing, more aid for local infrastructure
A nearly 30-year-old initiative that provides state dollars for local infrastructure projects has bipartisan support inside the Ohio Capitol.
But for the state to continue issuing these infrastructure bonds, voters will have to give the OK when they go to the polls in May. Since first becoming part of the Ohio Constitution in 1987, the State Capital Improvement Program has been renewed twice, with 62 percent of voters approving it in 1995 and 54 percent in 2005.
The plan proposed by legislators (SJR 6) would boost funding over the next decade, with annual spending of $175 million in the first five years and $200 million in the last five. Current funding is set at $150 million per year, The Columbus Dispatch reports. Proceeds from the state-issued bonds help pay for roads, sewers and other local projects. Through the work of 19 different public-works districts, local leaders decide the projects they want funded.
According to the National Association of State Budget Officers, bonds accounted for an estimated 2.0 percent of total spending by Ohio in fiscal year 2013. Nationwide, they accounted for 2.9 percent of state expenditures. Bonds made up close to 3 percent of state expenditures in Illinois and Kansas (highest totals in the Midwest), NASBO says. Indiana, Nebraska and Wisconsin reported no bonds-related spending.
Alcohol-related driving deaths rose in 2012; states urged to lower BAC limits, expand ignition-interlock laws
When the clock strikes midnight, and people in states across the country ring in the new year, one of the most dangerous few hours on U.S. roadways begins. About half of all the fatal crashes on New Year’s Day are due to impaired driving, higher than the rate for any other day of the year. And new National Traffic Highway Safety Administration data provide another reason for concern: With the exception of Kansas, the number of alcohol-related driving fatalities rose between 2011 and 2012 in every Midwestern state. More »
Legislatures lead drive for higher speed limits on region’s highways
Eighteen years ago, states were put in the driver’s seat when it came to setting the nation’s interstate speed limits.
Legislatures took that new authority and steered transportation policy in one direction — higher limits, as high in the Midwest as 75 mph in Kansas and Nebraska (rural interstates only) and North Dakota and South Dakota (rural and some or all urban interstates).
That trend is continuing this year. Under legislation signed into law in August (SB 2356), Illinois’ speed limit on rural highways will increase from 65 mph to 70 mph. The Wisconsin legislature will consider making the same change this fall. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, the Midwest’s nine other states already set speed limits on rural highways at 70 mph or higher. In Indiana and Michigan, though, trucks must travel at slower speeds.
The upcoming change in Illinois will not affect speed limits in the state’s urban areas, where the legal limit will remain 55 mph for cars and trucks. Indiana, Iowa and Minnesota also have 55 mph limits in certain highly populated areas. For motorists traveling on urban interstates in the eight other Midwestern states, speed limits are between 60 mph and 75 mph.
New laws give motorists option of paperless proof of car insurance
Last year at this time, Minnesota stood alone as the only state in the Midwest that allowed motorists to provide electronic proof of auto insurance.
By the end of this year, the use of “e-cards” will likely be authorized in nearly all of the region’s states.
According to the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, such measures have already been signed into law in Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, North Dakota and Wisconsin; as of late July, a bill was awaiting the signature of Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (SB 1775). “E-card” legislation is also being considered this year in Michigan (SB 91) and Ohio (HB 20).
Under these laws, insurers and consumers still have the option of issuing and using paper versions of ID cards. But individuals will be freed of the need to carry along a paper version; they instead can show proof of insurance via information stored on a smart phone or other device. Insurers, meanwhile, can save costs associated with printing and mailing ID cards.
According to USA Today, most states are requiring motorists to show digital cards issued directly by the insurer. Photos of paper cards will not be acceptable, in order to limit the risk of fraud.
Bumps in the road: Lawmakers finding it hard to reach consensus on plans to fund transportation
This year, roughly half the nation's state legislatures considered significant changes in transportation funding — through raises in gas taxes, for example, or the use of new revenue streams. More »
Illinois legislature OKs ban on drivers’ use of hand-held cell phones
Illinois lawmakers passed a bill in late May to make their state the first in the Midwest to ban the use of hand-held cell phones while driving.
Chicago and some other municipalities had already outlawed the use of cell phones without a hands-free device. Illinois’ ban, though, has only applied to school and construction zones.
According to the Springfield State-Journal Register, a $75 fine would be levied for a first offense. Some lawmakers objected to singling out one type of distracted driving, while leaving other types untouched under state law. However, HB 1247 passed the House and Senate with comfortable margins of support.
According to the Governors Highway Safety Administration, 11 states already have general bans on drivers’ use of hand-held cell phones. In the Midwest, though, these restrictions have only applied to young or inexperienced drivers. Every state in the region except South Dakota has a text-messaging ban that applies to all drivers. In Iowa, Nebraska and Ohio, the violation is a secondary offense — officers may cite a driver for text messaging only if another traffic offense occurred. Text messaging is a primary offense in seven Midwestern states. When states have banned the use of hand-held cell phones, they have made it a primary offense.
In Iowa, license renewal now less frequent, and more convenient
Two changes in Iowa’s driver’s license laws will be welcome news to many of the state’s motorists: Renew your license less frequently, and from the comfort of your home.
HF 355, signed into law in May, allows eligible drivers to renew their licenses online. Eligibility will be determined by the Iowa Department of Transportation.
In the Midwest, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska and Michigan already offer electronic renewal. In South Dakota, as the result of legislation passed earlier this year (SB 45), drivers will have one of two options starting next year: renewals by mail or via the Internet. States that provide the online option still require in-person renewals — typically every other renewal period.
Along with the convenience factor for motorists, Iowa lawmakers say, electronic renewals will save the state an estimated $1.2 million a year. A second bill signed into law, SF 224, will make driver’s licenses valid for eight years for Iowans between the ages of 18 and 74. Licenses previously had to be renewed every five years. In most other Midwestern states, the renewal period is between four and six years, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The lone exception is Wisconsin, which had already made licenses valid for eight years.
With new federal dollars, states upgrading region’s intercity passenger rail lines
Four years ago, federal lawmakers made a historic funding commitment to passenger rail — billions of dollars for new equipment and projects to improve intercity and interstate service. The Midwest has received $2.5 billion of the money obligated so far under the High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program (a little more than a quarter of total federal funding) for close to 40 projects. More »
Ohio leverages tolls on Turnpike to pay for transportation projects
Looking to increase the state’s investment in transportation but limited by traditional revenue options, Ohio lawmakers have turned to another source: toll money collected on the Ohio Turnpike. HB 51 was passed by the legislature and signed by Republican Gov. John Kasich in March.
Under the new law, $1.5 billion in bonds will be issued and backed by future toll revenue. Under the new law, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports, 90 percent of the proceeds from the bond issuance must be spent on projects within 75 miles of the Turnpike. Tolls will not be increased for Turnpike trips of 30 miles or less. Plans to bolster transportation funding have been introduced in several other states. Examples include an Iowa measure to phase in a 10-cent increase in the gas tax; a proposal by Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder to increase gas taxes and vehicle registration fees; and a Minnesota bill to raise gas taxes and registration fees and to expand the sales tax to include vehicle repairs and service.
In recent years, too, the Kansas and Nebraska legislatures have chosen to dedicate more sales tax revenue to transportation-infrastructure projects.
Prospect of automated vehicles drives new proposal in Michigan
by Tim Anderson ~ March 2013 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Early in the last century, Michigan emerged as the global hub of automotive production. Could it become the center of testing for a new vehicle for this century — the driverless car?
SB 169 takes a first step in making that at least a possibility. It would allow the testing of automated vehicles on Michigan roadways through the use of a special “manufacturer” license plate.
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder called for passage of the legislation earlier this year, noting that three other states (none in the Midwest) had already enacted automated-driving laws.
The bill was introduced in February. State officials have said that automated cars could reduce traffic accidents and improve fuel efficiency. They add that Michigan has an economic stake in keeping development of the technology inside the state.
Michigan’s reliance on the automobile industry is well known, but a 2010 Center For Automobile Research study underscores the importance of this economic sector to much of the Midwest. The study’s authors found that the auto industry contributed to 21.8 percent of the labor force in Michigan, 13.9 percent in Indiana and 12.4 percent in Ohio — the three highest rates in the nation. Illinois and Wisconsin were also above the U.S. average.
Under new Illinois law, iimmigrants have chance to obtain driver’s license
Illinois has become the first state in the Midwest to create a path for unauthorized immigrants to obtain a driver’s license.
Proponents of SB 987, signed into law in January, lauded it as a measure that would improve traffic safety and provide greater employment opportunities for the state’s population of unauthorized immigrants – estimated by the Pew Research Hispanic Center to be 525,000.
According to the office of Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, unlicensed drivers are five times as likely to be involved in a fatal crash as are licensed drivers. In addition, Quinn says, getting more drivers licensed and insured will cut insurance premiums for Illinois motorists.
Under the new law, individuals will be eligible for a license if they pass a driving test and carry auto insurance. The new license (which will have a different appearance than a regular driver’s license) cannot be used as official identification.
According to the Chicago Tribune, critics of SB 957 have said it will lead to fraud and abuse, and had sought language requiring that applicants for the new license be fingerprinted.
Passenger rail ridership continues to rise in Midwest
Passenger rail service in the Midwest is growing and improving, with record numbers of people taking the train and upgrades to service under way. More »
Nebraska DUI law key to rise in use of interlock ignition devices
A new Nebraska law is dramatically changing how DUI offenses are handled, the Lincoln Journal Star reports, with the use of interlock ignition devices on pace to increase by 20 percent in 2012.
The state is using the term “No Interlock, No Keys” to describe how the system works under LB 667, which took effect in January. Individuals arrested for a first or second time on charges of driving under the influence can apply for an ignition interlock permit. Their car is then equipped with this device, and won’t start unless the driver records a breath-alcohol concentration level of under .03. The advantage of this option for DUI offenders is that they continue to have driving privileges. Nebraska’s number of license-revocation hearings, meanwhile, has declined due to the number of arrestees choosing the interlock option. This trend, in turn, is saving law enforcement time and money.
According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, Nebraska, Illinois and Kansas are among the 17 U.S. states that require or highly incentivize the use of interlock devices in all DUI convictions. Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin only require the devices in certain cases (repeat offenders and/or those who recorded a high blood-alcohol content level). In other states, discretion is given to local judges.
As REAL ID deadline nears, Iowa OKs plan for new licenses, ID cards
Iowa will issue driver’s licenses and state identification cards next year that meet the initial security standards set out under the federal government’s REAL ID program.
According to the Quad City Times, all new driver’s license applicants will be given Iowa’s new cards. Individuals with existing licenses will not have to make the switch.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has given states until Jan. 15 to be “materially compliant” with new security standards developed as a result of the REAL ID Act of 2005. Eighteen benchmarks are being used to evaluate the security of state driver’s licenses and ID cards. After Jan. 15, individuals with non-compliant licenses and ID cards will have to provide alternative documents or undergo additional screening at the nation’s airports and federal facilities.
According to the Coalition for a Secure Driver’s License, as of July 31, five states in the Midwest were materially compliant with all 18 benchmarks: Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Ohio and South Dakota. In addition, Michigan is offering “enhanced” licenses and ID cards that may be deemed acceptable by the Department of Homeland Security. Illinois was the only state in the Midwest meeting 10 or fewer benchmarks, the coalition reports.
North Dakota lawmakers say speeding drivers should pay higher cost
If a driver in North Dakota gets stopped by police for driving 65 miles per hour in a 55-mph zone, he or she leaves the scene with a $10 fine.
That amount is too low, an interim legislative committee has decided, as are many of the state’s penalties for speeding.
According to The Bismarck Tribune, the committee is backing a plan to increase many highway speeding fines by double or more. For example, the penalty for the aforementioned violation would rise from $10 to $50. During committee hearings, proponents of making these changes said North Dakota’s fines were no longer serving as an effective deterrent. The proposed changes will be taken up by the legislature in 2013.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s 2011 “Summary of State Speed Laws,” North Dakota’s fines for speeding fall between $5 and $100, depending on how fast the motorist was driving over the speed limit. This type of “fee scheduling” is common in state statutes — for example, speeding fines range from $60 to $625 in Iowa, $10 to $300 in Nebraska, and $30 to $300 in Wisconsin. Indiana, Kansas and South Dakota cap speeding fines at $500, Illinois at $1,000, and Ohio at $150. Conversely, Michigan’s statutory language sets minimum fine amounts — between $10 and $50.
Signing of interlocal agreement paves way for international bridge
After two years of seeking options and legislative support to build a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder appears to have found a way to make it a reality. More »
Advocates look to turn around recent trends in rail funding
After two years of minimal investments in passenger rail, advocates of improving the region’s intercity and interstate rail system are hoping to convince the U.S. Congress to reverse this recent course in federal
funding. More »
Michigan removes helmet requirement for motorcyclists
Michigan has repealed a state law requiring all motorcyclists to wear helmets, leaving Nebraska as the lone state in the Midwest with such a law on the books.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, most state laws in this region only require that helmets be worn by riders who are 17 years old and younger. (Illinois and Iowa are the only two states in the Midwest — two of only three nationally — with no helmet requirements for any ages.)
Michigan’s new law allows people 21 and older to ride without a helmet, but these individuals must also meet specific requirements. These riders have to pass a safety course, the Detroit Free Press reports, as well as carry $20,000 in medical insurance.
Nationwide, 19 U.S. states have laws requiring all motorcyclists to wear helmets. Michigan had been among this list of states until the governor’s signature of SB 291 in April. Efforts to repeal the helmet law date back decades; former Gov. Jennifer Granholm twice vetoed measures passed by the Legislature.
In 2010, there were a total of 818 motorcyclist fatalities in the 11-state Midwest, ranging from a low of 14 in Nebraska to a high of 170 in Ohio. Sixty-three percent of those fatalities involved unhelmeted riders.
For states, no clear path on
transportation: Proposed gas-tax hikes reflect ongoing struggle to fix
infrastructure and funding shortfalls
In Michigan, lawmakers say an additional $1.4 billion a year is needed for
the state’s roads and bridges.
An Iowa study released in late 2011 found that
the state needed to generate $215 million more annually “to meet the state’s
critical roadway needs.” The two states are not alone. More »
Special issue of CSG's Capitol Ideas magazine on transportation »
Glimpse of the future? First high-speed train running in Midwest
When passengers boarded a train in February from Chicago to Kalamazoo, Mich., they became a part of history — the first-ever high-speed rail service in the Midwest. More »
Rural areas on road to
Most rural Midwesterners are well aware that their roads and bridges,
designed primarily from the 1930s through the 1960s, are now handling loads and
traffic that the original builders could not have imagined. More »
What states in the Midwest have graduated driver’s license laws, and what are
the differences and similarities in these laws?
A. According to the National
Transportation Safety Board, traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for
teenagers, and multiple studies have shown that graduated driver’s license (GDL)
laws are effective in improving teen driving safety. Under these laws, a state
imposes restrictions on young drivers until they gain more experience behind the
wheel. More »
Cameras to target speeders on roads near parks, schools
Illinois lawmakers have paved the way for speed cameras to be used in designated safety zones in the city of Chicago. SB 965, passed by the legislature in November, establishes these zones as being roadways within one-eighth of a mile of a school or park. An individual will be ticketed if he or she is caught by a camera driving more than 5 miles per hour over the speed limit. The fine is $50 a day for driving up to 10 mph over the limit and $100 for higher speeds. The cameras will be used between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., and signs must be posted at the intersections warning motorists.
According to the Chicago Tribune, a pedestrian study done by the city of Chicago served as the impetus for the legislation. Between 2005 and 2009, the study found, there were 861 crashes involving children near schools around arrival or dismissal times.
Most states in the Midwest do not have laws addressing the use of speed or red-light cameras. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, Wisconsin is the only state in the region with a law that expressly prohibits the use of automated enforcement technologies. Illinois, on the other hand, already allows local municipalities to employ red-light cameras. In Iowa and Ohio, automated enforcement programs are operating under local ordinance.
Ridership on Midwestern corridors continues uptrend, rising 54 percent in past five years
Passenger rail ridership on state-supported and other shorter-distance corridors (less than 750 miles) in the Midwest continues to grow. The number of riders on these nine routes increased by 5.4 percent in fiscal year 2011, reaching nearly 3 million for the period between Oct. 1, 2010, and Sept. 30 of this year. More »
Transportation finance: With cut in federal dollars looming, states mull value of public-private partnerships
The possibility of reduced federal transportation funding and the potential of public-private partnerships as a tool for infrastructure development were two issues on the minds of participants in a roundtable discussion held during this summer’s Midwestern Legislative Conference Annual Meeting in Indianapolis.
Indiana Republican Rep. Ed Soliday, who led the discussion, said a plan put forward by U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica puts the future funding challenges for states in sharp
focus. More »
Nebraska plans to re-route part of sales tax for
Nebraska will soon add another dedicated revenue
source for maintaining, repairing and building roads — the sales tax.
Under LB 84, signed into law in May, a 0.25% sales tax for roads
will take effect in 2013. According to the Unicameral
Update (a publication of the Nebraska Legislature), the state’s overall
sales tax rate of 5.5 percent will remain unchanged, but instead of all proceeds
going to the general fund, some will be diverted to two highway funds.
Last year, Kansas legislators increased the sales tax rate (from 5.3 percent
to 6.3 percent) and dedicated more money from this revenue source to
transportation. Traditionally, states have relied primarily on two revenue
sources for financing highway projects: federal funds (nationally, they make up
25.5 percent of the total) and user fees, such as gas taxes, tolls and motor
vehicle taxes. In 2009, user fees accounted for a majority of own-source state
revenue for highways in every Midwestern state — from a high of 96.8 percent in
North Dakota to a low of 54.5 percent in Kansas, according to Federal Highway
Seven Midwestern states used bond proceeds as well, the federal data show;
Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota were among the 15 U.S. states that
Pew study: Put performance-based transportation funding on fast track
Transportation is one of the “big four” when it comes to spending in state government. Along with K-12 education, Medicaid and higher education, roads and other infrastructure needs take up a majority of states’ budgets every year. (The big four account for 61 percent of total state spending, National Association of State Budget Officers data show, with transportation making up 7.8 percent of the total.) More »
How are state-supported passenger rail routes funded?
Today’s system of state-supported passenger rail is based on the federal legislation passed in 1970 that created Amtrak. That measure allowed states to request additional passenger rail service if they agreed to pay a portion of the costs. More »
One plate or two? States vary in what is required on vehicles
Most states in the Midwest require vehicle owners to display license plates in the front and the back of their passenger cars or trucks.
Many of these two-plate requirements date back years or decades. But are they worth it? That question is being asked in at least two Midwestern states, where bills have been introduced to change existing vehicle codes.
House bills 164 and 188 would make Illinois the region’s fourth “one-plate state,” meaning only one license plate would be issued and placed in the rear of the vehicle. The bills’ supporters told The Bloomington-Normal Pantagraph that the change would save the state 50 cents per plate, which amounts to just under $800,000 a year. Officials with the Illinois State Police, though, have expressed concern that the move might make it more difficult to identify stolen cars and to nab offenders.
Indiana, Kansas and Michigan are among the 19 U.S. states that require only one plate, according to Java Signs, a sign manufacturer. Last year, a one-plate proposal in Nebraska failed to get through the Legislature.
A bill in that state this year (LB 182) would exempt farm trucks and commercial vehicles from the two-plate requirement. One complaint among some agriculture producers in Nebraska is that their front license plates often get damaged and need to be replaced, resulting in an extra cost.
No turning back on use of red-light cameras in Illinois
The controversial use of red-light cameras by some local governments in Illinois will continue in 2011, but under a new set of rules established by the General Assembly. SB 935 took effect in January. It makes several changes to a state law — the only one of its kind in the Midwest — that explicitly permits the use of cameras to enforce traffic laws at stop lights. (Illinois also allows for automated enforcement in some construction zones and at railroad crossings.)
As a result of passage of SB 935, a violation caught by a red-light camera must be reviewed and verified by law enforcement. Motorists, too, have the right to review video evidence and contest violations via a secure, web-based portal. In addition, local governments are required to post the locations of red-light cameras on their websites and to study the safety impact of each camera. According to the Chicago Tribune, the cameras appear to be working: Preliminary data show a decline in accidents at intersections where they have been installed.
Nine of the 11 Midwestern states have no laws on automated enforcement. However, it is used in parts of Iowa, Ohio and South Dakota, the Governors Highway Safety Association reports. According to the GHSA, Wisconsin is the only Midwestern state that explicitly prohibits the use of speed and red-light cameras.