Letter: Canceling STAA Access Project Needs to Be on the Table

From the Triplicate on January 12th:

“The meeting on the 2016 Regional Transportation Plan was jam-packed with folks from Crescent City, Hiouchi, and Gasquet, among other places, to the surprise of Project Manager Jeff Schwein. A large percentage — two-thirds to three-fourths by show of hands — were there with concerns about Caltrans’ project to alter Highways 199 and 197 to allow the longer STAA trucks….

The point I wanted to make, but was cut off, is that funding can be rescinded and projects canceled. We need to free up as much money as possible to handle what Jeff stressed is a “crisis in funding” for Del Norte County roads….”

Read the full letter here.

Triplicate: Last Chance, STAA Hot Topics

From the Del Norte Triplicate:

“…The letter EPIC submitted Monday night as its formal comment on the Regional Transportation Plan touched on many of the things said by opponents of the project all along: namely, that widening and straightening the highways to allow access to larger trucks will not make the already windy and precarious road any safer, and puts the pristine Smith River at greater risk of spills…”

Read the full article here.

New York Times: “The Bill That Would Make Roads Less Safe”

Congress is working on a bill that would continue the underfunding of road maintenance and repair while loosening safety regulations for big trucks.  From the New York Times:

“…The legislation would authorize federal spending on transportation projects for six years but provide only enough money to last the first three years, or $325 billion….

The House bill also contains provisions that would undoubtedly lead to more deadly accidents. One would prevent the Department of Transportation from publishing the safety ratings of trucking and bus companies. Another would make it harder for the department to raise the minimum insurance requirements for trucks and buses that were last set in 1985.

The bill would also allow people as young as 19 years, 6 months old to drive trucks across state lines, down from 21 now. Given the higher accident rates of teenage drivers, this change makes no sense….”

Read the full editorial.

North Coast Journal: “Crash”

The North Coast Journal this week really highlights the safety problem that already exists on Humboldt County’s roadways.  In this sad context, we must note that the Richardson Grove and Highway 197/199 projects will result in an increase in the largest trucks driven on our local roads by out-of-area drivers coming from points all across North America.  In fact, that’s part of the point of these projects–to allow the biggest trucks to carry goods from their distant origins all the way to end points in Humboldt County (or through Humboldt County to endpoints beyond) without switching to a smaller local truck first.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, large trucks are only 4% of registered vehicles, but account for 11% of fatal accidents. When a big truck and a car collide, 97% of those who die are car occupants.  The last thing we need on Humboldt County’s roads are more big rigs driven by tired drivers who are not familiar with our area’s steep, winding roads.

From the North Coast Journal:

“…And so goes the steady drumbeat of vehicle fatalities in Humboldt County, which plays on with alarming — if numbing — consistency, leaving a trail of lives both shattered and lost. Statistics show Humboldt has some of the most dangerous roads in the country, with fatal accident rates double the national average and nearly triple those of California. The rates are so high, in fact, that in 2013 Humboldt’s per-capita motor vehicle fatality rate — 20.72 deaths per 100,000 residents — eclipsed that of any state in the country save for Montana (22.6), according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Our rates of vehicle-versus-pedestrian fatalities are also some of the highest in the country. In 2013, the last year for which data is available, California recorded 1.83 pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 residents. Nationally, the rate was 1.34. In Humboldt that year, it was 4.44.

Perhaps worst of all, Humboldt County’s rates in both categories have trended sharply upward over the last decade, while national and state rates have dropped almost 50 percent….”

Read the full article.

My Word: Building on our rural creative class economy a better bet

From the Times-Standard:

“…[I]f Caltrans’ Richardson Grove Highway 101 and the Del Norte Highway 199/197 road “widening” Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) oversize truck access projects are not cancelled, the international freight “port with rail” dreamers will continue to be a drain on public resources that could be better utilized elsewhere….

Supporters of an international port with rail and oversize STAA trucking have for too long followed a locally unsuitable economic model that holds that industrial port development must be the primary economic driver for creating jobs and generating income for recreation and conservation improvements. The empirical evidence certainly does not support that model….

The Times-Standard reported that Humboldt was ranked second best county in the U.S. by the “natural amenities index.” (“Second best county in US,” Aug. 19, Page A3.) When two paths diverge in the woods, you can’t take both. Let’s direct transportation resources to enhance development of our rural creative class economy, not through-route access for oversize trucks in a futile pursuit of unsustainable goals.”

Read the full op-ed.

Former Trucking Industry Executive: “The Trucks Are Killing Us”

As we consider the oversized truck access projects at Richardson Grove and Highways 199/197, we would do well to remember that more large trucks result in more serious accidents.  A former trucking industry executive writes in the New York Times:

“…More people will be killed in traffic accidents involving large trucks this year than have died in all of the domestic commercial airline crashes over the past 45 years, if past trends hold true. And still Congress continues to do the trucking industry’s bidding by frustrating the very regulators the government has empowered to oversee motor carriers.

In recent months, Congress has pursued a number of steps to roll back safety improvements ordered by federal regulators. It has pushed to allow truck drivers to work 82 hours a week, up from the current 70 hours over eight days, by eliminating the requirement that drivers take a two-day rest break each week; discouraged the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration from investing in wireless technology designed to improve the monitoring of drivers and their vehicles; and signaled its willingness to allow longer and heavier trucks despite widespread public opposition. Congress also wants to lower the minimum age for drivers of large trucks that are allowed to travel from state to state to 18, from 21….”

Read the full op-ed.

 

Speeding Semi Overturns on Curve

This latest accident underscores the fact that tight curves and large trucks can be a dangerous combination – even if the truck can theoretically make the turn under ideal conditions.  This is an important to learn as we consider the efforts by Caltrans to open up our region to even bigger trucks, while exempting road-straightening projects from their own safety design standards.  From the Times-Standard:

The California Highway Patrol investigated the crash. CHP Sgt. Martin Abshire said initial reports indicate that the driver entered the turn at an unsafe speed.

“I’m not sure what the exact speed will be clocked at in the report, but we have witnesses at the scene saying he was going somewhere in the 40 to 45 mile per hour range, clearly an unsafe speed for that turn,” Abshire said….”

Read the full article.