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Transportation & Passenger Rail

 

Legislators urged to take care of Midwest’s regional transportation edge

by Jon Davis ~ August 2018 ~ Stateline Midwest »
By rivers, roads, rails or runways, transportation helped build the Midwest’s economy, but can the region meet the challenge of coming changes? Transportation mavens John Fuller and Joe Schwieterman joined the 73rd Annual Meeting of the Midwestern Legislative Conference in July to track development of the region’s transportation edge and how to maintain it. More »

 

Driverless vehicles focus of Nebraska law, Ohio executive order

by Tim Anderson ~ May 2018 ~ Stateline Midwest »

Nebraska and Ohio are two of the latest states with new policies that signal a transportation future with many more autonomous vehicles in use. Nebraska’s LB 989, signed into law in April, allows for these vehicles to operate on state roads. The new law also prevents local governments from imposing its own performance standards or levying taxes specific to autonomous vehicles. Another provision in LB 989 allows for operation of an “on-demand driverless-capable vehicle network” — for example, a Lyft- or Uber-type service that uses driverless vehicles.
According to the Insurance Institute for HIghway Safety, Nebraska joins Michigan and nine other U.S. states in allowing for the full deployment of driverless cars.
In May, Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed an executive order that allows for testing of autonomous vehicles on any public road or highway in the state. “The sooner these vehicles are safely fine-tuned,” Kasich says, “the sooner they can make a significant reduction in the 40,000 traffic deaths we have in this country every year.” His order also creates a voluntary Autonomous Vehicle Pilot Program for local governments to work with companies in advancing related technologies.

 

More aboard: Double-digit increases in ridership reported on most state-supported routes

by Jon Davis ~ February 2018 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Ridership on the region’s state-supported passenger rail routes has increased on almost every line over the past decade, according to Amtrak ridership data tracked by the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail
Commission
. More »

 

Do any states restrict the “non-driving” factors used by companies when setting auto insurance premiums for customers? 

by Tim Anderson ~ September 2017 ~ Question of the Month »

Every Midwestern state requires drivers to have auto liability insurance. The rate that individuals pay for this insurance is based on a host of factors — some connected to their driving habits and history, others unrelated. To date, three states outside of the Midwest — California, Hawaii and Massachusetts — have the most aggressive policies in place to limit the use of non-driving factors. More »

 

Do any states in the Midwest prohibit suspensions of driver’s licenses for failure to pay fines or fees? 

by Katelyn Tye ~ September 2017 ~ Question of the Month »

In 2013, the Washington State Legislature authorized a civil collection process for unpaid traffic fines, which replaced a requirement that the state suspend a person’s driver’s license for failure to pay a traffic violation. More »

 

Iowa may be first in the Midwest to offer digital driver’s licenses

by Jon Davis ~ June/July 2017 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Iowans may be able to access their driver’s licenses via a smartphone app starting in 2018, the state’s Department of Transportation announced in May. According to The Des Moines Register, a pilot program involving about 100 state employees with state-issued iPhones was conducted in 2016 with MorphoTrust USA, a contractor that provides identity-related products and services, to test how real user data were used in a variety of situations.
Once drivers download the app, they would get an email with instructions and a personal identification number. After entering their email address and PIN into the app, they would take a “selfie,” which the app would then compare to the driver’s license on file. Information could be automatically updated.
Department of Transportation director Mark Lowe says a public version is on track for release in 2018, and he hopes it will be acceptable to the U.S. Transportation Security Administration for domestic air travel. First announced in 2014, Iowa’s plan has drawn interest from all Canadian provinces, Australia, Ireland, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Wales, The Des Moines Register reports.

 

Midwest states continue debating, enacting gas tax hikes for roads

by Jon Davis ~ June/July 2017 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Stuck between the reluctance to raise taxes and the omnipresent need to fix transportation systems, legislators and governors may well feel the frustration of drivers caught in traffic. More »

 

Which Midwestern states impose additional or special registration fees on electric vehicles? 

by Laura Tomaka ~ May 2017 ~ Stateline Midwest »

With a rise in the sale of electric vehicles, states lose some of the revenue that they’ve long relied on to pay for transportation projects: taxes on motor fuels. One response by some legislatures, in the Midwest and around the country, has been to impose additional registration fees on the owners of these cars. More »

 

 

Federal study seeks long-term framework for improving intercity rail service in Midwest

by Jon Davis ~ May 2017 ~ Stateline Midwest »
The Federal Railroad Administration has formally launched an 18-month study that is exploring the long-term development of high-performance, intercity passenger rail service for the Midwest. More »

 

Indiana becomes fifth Midwest state since 2015 to raise gas tax

by Tim Anderson ~ May 2017 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Indiana has become the latest state in the Midwest to raise the gas tax and user-based fees to generate more revenue for its transportation infrastructure. The 10-cent increase on motor fuels takes effect on July 1; it will result in Hoosier motorists paying a total of 28 cents per gallon of gasoline. In subsequent years, through 2024, Indiana’s gas tax will be indexed to inflation, though annual increases will be limited to 1 cent per gallon.
In 2015, legislatures in Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska and South Dakota raised taxes on motor fuels to invest more in their transportation infrastructures.
Under Indiana’s HB 1002, which was signed into law in April, an estimated $1.2 billion will be generated annually for the state’s roads and bridges by 2024. Along with the gas tax increase, a new $15 annual fee will be imposed on all vehicles (on top of the state’s existing registration fee). The owners of hybrid and electric vehicles will be subject to a separate fee as well — $50 and $150, respectively. Indiana lawmakers also directed the state Department of Transportation to seek a federal waiver that would allow the state to authorize tolling on its stretch of interstate highways.

 

Iowa sends message with stiffer penalties: Don’t text and drive

by Tim Anderson ~ May 2017 ~ Stateline Midwest »
In 2016, drivers distracted by their phones or other devices caused 1,230 crashes on Iowa roads, nearly double the number from a decade ago, state statistics show. This year, the state’s lawmakers passed two bills to crack down on these motorists.
Under SF 444, an individual’s use of a “hand-held electronic communication device to write, send or view an electronic message” while driving is considered “reckless.” If this activity results in the unintentional death of another person, the driver would be charged with a Class C felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. A second bill signed into law, SF 234, makes texting while driving a primary offense, The Des Moines Register reports. This will allow police officers to pull over a motorist whom they suspect of texting while driving.
According to the Governors Highway Safety Administration, Iowa had been one of four Midwestern states (Nebraska, Ohio and South Dakota are the others) where texting while driving was a secondary offense. Illinois is the only state in the Midwest that bans all drivers from using hand-held cell phones; other states in the region only restrict young or “novice” drivers.

 

Which Midwestern states impose additional or special registration fees on electric vehicles?

by Laura Tomaka ~ May 2017 ~ Question of the Month »
At least 20 states, including five in the Midwest, have enacted taxes on the “streaming” of media, such as music, movies or TV shows. Known colloquially as a “Netflix tax,” the taxes allow states to adapt to new, Internet-based trends in entertainment consumption. More »

 

Ridership on Midwest’s state-supported lines has dropped over past five years

by Jon Davis ~ November 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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

by Jon Davis ~ October 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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

by Jon Davis ~ May 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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 »

 

In 2015, legislatures in four Midwest states boosted funding for roads

by Tim Anderson ~ December 2015 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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 »

 

New binational standards aim to improve safety of oil shipments by rail

by Ilene Grossman ~ June 2015 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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

by Tim Anderson ~ May 2015 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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.

 

What states require individuals to have auto insurance, and do they provide any exemptions to this mandate?

by Tim Anderson ~ February 2015 ~ Question of the Month »
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

by Tim Anderson ~ January 2015 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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.

 

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

by Mike McCabe ~ October 2014 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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?

by Tim Anderson ~ September 2014 ~ Question of the Month »
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 »

 

From free Wi-Fi to purchase of new 125-mph trains, upgrades to Midwest’s rail service continues

by Laura Kliewer ~ May 2014 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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?

by Tim Anderson ~ May 2014 ~ Question of the Month »
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 »

 

Alcohol-related driving deaths rose in 2012; states urged to lower BAC limits, expand ignition-interlock laws

by Tim Anderson ~ December 2013 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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

by Tim Anderson ~ September 2013 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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.

 

In Iowa, license renewal now less frequent, and more convenient

by Tim Anderson ~ June 2013 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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

by Laura Kliewer ~ May 2013 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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

by Tim Anderson ~ April 2013 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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.

 

What states in the Midwest have graduated driver’s license laws, and what are the differences and similarities in these laws?

by Laura Kliewer ~ December 2011 ~ Question of the Month »
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

by Tim Anderson ~ December 2011 ~ Stateline Midwest »
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.

 

How are state-supported passenger rail routes funded?

by Laura Kliewer ~ June 2011 ~ Question of the Month »
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 »