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Entries in Department of Transportation (20)

Thursday
Aug022012

Minnesota Bridge Collapse Anniversary: How Safe Are Drivers Now?

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- It's been five years since more than 100 cars were traveling over a bridge on I-35W during a Minneapolis rush hour when it suddenly collapsed, dropping cars from the interstate into the 15-foot-deep Mississippi River below and trapping many passengers inside.  Before they could escape, 13 people died and another 145 were injured on one of the worst bridge disasters in U.S. history.

A formal investigation took more than a year, but once it was finished the National Transportation Safety Board said the cause of the I-35W Mississippi River bridge tragedy was a simple design flaw in the bridge's gusset plates -- metal plates that help connect one steel beam to another.  At that time, NTSB acting chairman Mark Rosenker said the board's investigation would "provide a roadmap for improvements to prevent future tragedies."

But five years after the collapse, Andrew Hermann, the president of the American Society of Engineers, told ABC News that while the nation has an aggressive bridge inspection program, the government is still not spending enough money on updating and maintaining the nation's infrastructure.

"Congress basically lacks the courage to do what is needed to raise the funds," he said.  "Bridges require maintenance, and maintenance and rehabilitation require funding... Politicians like to show up and cut a ribbon on a brand new bridge, but they don't like to show up and applaud a new paint job that may increase the life of a bridge."

At the time of the Minnesota bridge collapse, ABC News reported that the bridge had already been classified as "structurally deficient," meaning that while it was not deemed unsafe enough to close, it did require maintenance.

According to the Department of Transportation, bridges can be put on waiting lists for "replacement or rehabilitation" if they are classified as structurally deficient or "functionally obsolete;" the latter meaning the bridge was built prior to modern standards but was not necessarily unsafe.  A common example of a functionally obsolete bridge is one with road lanes that are too narrow.

When the Minnesota bridge collapsed in 2007, approximately 25.4 percent of the nearly 600,000 bridges in the U.S. were considered either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, according to the DOT.  By 2011, the number dipped to 23.8 percent, still leaving nearly 150,000 bridges in the same categories.

But transportation officials stressed that it does not mean American drivers are traveling on thousands of unsafe bridges -- just ones that may need some type of repair or more frequent inspections.

The Federal Highway Administration "has implemented measures to more closely oversee the inspection process and identify inconsistencies and non-compliance," FHA Administrator Victor Mendez told ABC News.  "While there are a number of bridges that are typically more closely monitored than others based on their condition, they are structurally safe.  Unsafe bridges are closed."

The FHA said that bridges are generally inspected once every two years, depending on the bridge's age and traffic patterns.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Nov142011

Dept. of Transportation Issues First Ever Fine for Tarmac Delay

Hemera/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Department of Transportation has announced that American Eagle Airlines became the first airline to be slapped with fines for violating the department’s three-hour limit for tarmac delays.

On May 29, 2011, 15 different American Eagle Airlines flights left 608 passengers sitting on the Chicago O’Hare International Airport tarmac for a total of 225 minutes -- 45 minutes beyond the limit.

For the violation, American Eagle Airlines has received a fine of $900,000 -- the largest fine to date in a consumer case not involving civil rights violation.

"A total of $650,000 must be paid within 30 days, and up to $250,000 can be credited for refunds, vouchers, and frequent flyer mile awards provided to the passengers on the 15 flights on May 29, as well as to passengers on future flights that experience lengthy tarmac delays of less than three hours," the DOT said in a statement Monday.

The rule, which was put in place in April 2010, states that any U.S. airlines operating with 30 or more passenger seats are prohibited from allowing their flights to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours without giving passengers an opportunity to deplane.

“We put the tarmac rule in place to protect passengers, and we take any violation very seriously,” explained U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.  “We will work to ensure that airlines and airports coordinate their resources and plans to avoid keeping passengers delayed on the tarmac.”

And it seems to be working.  In Monday’s press release, the DOT notes that between May 2010 and April 2011, the larger U.S. airlines required to file tarmac delays reported 20 tarmac delays of more than three hours but less than four hours.  By comparison, during the 12 months before the rule took effect, these carriers had 693 tarmac delays of more than three hours, and 105 delays longer than four hours.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Sep302011

NJ to Pay Feds $95 Million Over Stalled Tunnel to New York City

Office of the Governor, State of New Jersey(WASHINGTON) -- If New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie one day enters the race for the Republican presidential nomination, he’s going to have to write some big checks.

None are likely to be as big as the nearly $100 million the governor’s state agreed to pay Friday over a stalled $3 billion tunnel project that was supposed to link northern New Jersey to Manhattan. The project, called the “ARC” tunnel, was the largest transit project in history, according to the Department of Transportation.

In a press release issued Friday, the DOT announced that it had signed an agreement with Christie to recoup $95 million of the $271 million federal dollars that have been committed to the project.

“The $95 million settlement will permit DOT to recover all of the $51 million in New Starts money provided to New Jersey for the ARC project, so that those funds can be made available to other communities for public transit projects,” said the DOT.

Additionally, the agreement struck between New Jersey and the Feds requires the state to spend another $128 million on transit projects.

A Department of Transportation official praised the efforts of New Jersey’s two Democratic senators, Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, in helping broker a deal.

“Sens. Lautenberg and Menendez deserve the lion’s share of the credit for helping to broker a solution that will ensure New Jersey taxpayers have to pay back a much smaller amount than what Gov. Christie owes and that the state must now proceed with other transit projects that benefit residents,” said this official.

Christie released a statement praising the deal, saying it won’t cost New Jersey residents any money out of their pockets.

“I am pleased to announce that we have negotiated a good-faith settlement with the Federal Transportation Administration that puts the interests of New Jersey taxpayers first by substantially reducing the federal government’s original demand,” said Christie.

As for the tunnel connecting New Jersey and Manhattan, for now there’s just a hole in the ground.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jun222011

International Billboard Research Trip 'Ridiculous,' Watchdog Says

The White House/Lawrence Jackson(WASHINGTON) -- The Obama administration has ordered a halt to a decade-long, multi-million dollar program that sent bureaucrats around the world to study foreign highways, but not before one group of officials completes an on-going taxpayer-funded foreign jaunt.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said late Tuesday he was suspending the program "while [he] personally reviews the way taxpayer dollars have been spent."

"The president has been clear: We must get rid of stupid spending and pointless waste," LaHood said in an emailed statement to ABC News. "Each taxpayer dollar is precious, and there is no excuse for wasting a single one.  That's why...I have suspended this program."

But LaHood's order came while a group of transportation officials was already abroad and that group plans to continue their itinerary -- studying pavement -- while LaHood studies the value of the program.  The group will return June 26, as scheduled, officials said.

"Taxpayers certainly should be outraged that their money is being spent on this type of activity when our roads are falling part, gas taxes and prices are at an all-time high," Tom Schatz, President of Citizens Against Government Waste, said on ABC's Good Morning America. "It really is a ridiculous use of our money."

The initiative, known as the International Scan Program, has been sending federal and state transportation employees to popular foreign tourist destinations for the past decade with the goal of studying how other countries handle the challenges of running major highway networks.  Other trips have been planned to study such issues as motorcycle safety, managing pavement, precast concrete, and adapting to climate change.

But the program began prompting questions in recent weeks, as members of Congress learned that a group of transportation officials traveled around the globe -- a nine city tour that took them to Australia, Sweden, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Great Britain -- in order to prepare a 76-page report about policies for dealing with billboard advertising.

Photos from the trip obtained by ABC News show some of the 12-member delegation toasting with wine glasses in Australia and driving the tulip-lined highways of Holland.  Travel records show the group secured luxury accommodations and ate in only the best eateries.  In Melbourne, that meant dining along the waterfront at the pricey Scusami Italian Restaurant, in Brisbane, the LAB Restaurant, in Stockholm, the five-star Fem Sma House.

The cost of the 17-day trip for bureaucrats to study billboards? Roughly $300,000, according to estimates the administration provided to Congress.  (Transportation officials said roughly $40,000 of that covered the expenses of the three federal workers on the trip.)

The program has been sending groups of federal and state workers on similar trips as often as four times a year for the past decade, at a total cost of nearly $12 million.

A transportation official said Tuesday night that the decision had been made weeks ago to include it in future cuts, and was not in response to ABC News questions.

Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, was also surprised by the extent of travel the Federal Highway Administration had engaged in, especially in an age when a great deal can be accomplished by teleconference and the Internet.

"I certainly think there's a waste of money here that this program needs to be tightened up, needs to be investigated," he said Tuesday.  "I think this is the type of foreign travel that should be grounded."

ABC News first contacted the Federal Highway Administration on Monday evening after obtaining a copy of a letter that House Republicans sent to the department late last week.

"We recognize that our transportation system can benefit from understanding best practices abroad," the June 17 letter to LaHood says.  "But we are unable to justify to the voters in our districts such spending in the face of rising gasoline prices and federal deficits."

The letter is signed by Reps. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), Jason Altmire (D-Pa.), Rick Crawford (R-Ark.), Blake Farenthold (R-Texas), John Carter (R-Texas), Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), Steve Southerland (R-Fl.) and Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.).

U.S. Transportation officials said the program has been co-financed with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation officials, and that it has produced some victories for taxpayers in the past.  For instance, one trip to study prefabricated bridge technologies contributed to accelerated bridge replacement in a number of locations, with some jurisdictions reporting savings as a result.

LaHood sent his statement to ABC News Tuesday evening, saying he did not believe it met the strict test the administration is using to evaluate spending programs.

"From the outset of this administration, I have urged agency personnel to be judicious and cost-conscious in the use of official travel and we will not tolerate any abuse of the public trust," he said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Jun212011

'Stupid Spending'?: ABC Inquires, Feds Stop Travel Program

TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A $1.2 million federal highway program that sent employees on a 17-day globe-trotting journey to photograph different billboards was suspended Tuesday after ABC News alerted the U.S. Department of Transportation that it planned to air a report on the program.

"The President has been clear: We must get rid of stupid spending and pointless waste," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in an emailed statement to ABC News. "Each taxpayer dollar is precious, and there is no excuse for wasting a single one. That's why…I have suspended this program."

LaHood said he directed the Federal Highway Administration to shut down this program until further notice "while I personally review the way taxpayer dollars have been spent."

The initiative, known as the International Scan Program, has been sending federal and state transportation employees to popular foreign tourist destinations for the past decade with the goal of studying how other countries handle the challenges of running major highway networks. Other trips have been planned to study such issues as motorcycle safety, managing pavement, precast concrete, and adapting to climate change. But the program began prompting questions in recent weeks, as members of Congress learned that a group of transportation officials traveled around the globe -- a nine-city tour that took them to Australia, Sweden, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Great Britain -- in order to prepare a 76-page report about policies for dealing with billboard advertising.

Photos from the trip obtained by ABC News show some of the 12-member delegation toasting with wine glasses in Australia and driving the tulip-lined highways of Holland. Travel records show the group secured luxury accommodations and ate well. In Melbourne, that meant dining along the waterfront at the pricey Scusami Italian Restaurant; in Brisbane, the LAB Restaurant; in Stockholm, the five-star Fem Sma House.

The cost of the 17-day trip for bureaucrats to study billboards? Roughly $300,000, according to estimates the administration provided to Congress.

And this was not a one-time occurrence. The program has been sending groups of federal and state workers on similar trips as often as four times a year for the past decade, at a total cost of nearly $12 million.

ABC News first contacted the Federal Highway Administration on Monday evening after obtaining a copy of a letter that House Republicans sent to the department late last week.

"We recognize that our transportation system can benefit from understanding best practices abroad," the June 17 letter to LaHood says. "But we are unable to justify to the voters in our districts such spending in the face of rising gasoline prices and federal deficits."

The letter is signed by Reps. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), Jason Altmire (D-Pa.), Rick Crawford (R-Ark.), Blake Farenthold (R-Texas), John Carter (R-Texas), Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), Steve Southerland (R-Fl.) and Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.).

LaHood sent his statement to ABC News Tuesday evening, saying he did not believe it met the strict test the administration is using to evaluate spending programs.

"From the outset of this administration, I have urged agency personnel to be judicious and cost-conscious in the use of official travel and we will not tolerate any abuse of the public trust," he said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jun132011

Bus Company Shut Down for Carrying Humans in Cargo Hold

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A bus company has been busted for transporting passengers in the cargo compartment of one of its motorcoaches.

Michigan-based Haines Tours was ordered by the Department of Transportation to stop operations due to the May 27 incident in which six people were found inside the cargo area along with unsecured luggage and bags.

The discovery of human cargo was made by the Ohio State Highway Patrol in Lake Township, Ohio during an inspection after the bus was stopped as it was traveling from Michigan to Ohio.

In announcing the shutdown of Haines Tours, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said, "People's lives were needlessly placed at risk.  Safety is everyone's responsibility and it begins with practicing common sense.  That means not putting human beings in cargo holds."

This isn't the first time the company run by Roger Haines has gotten into trouble.  In 2010, Haines Tours was cited for utilizing a luggage compartment as an unauthorized sleeper berth for drivers.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jun022011

DOT to Hold Campaign Promoting Teen Driver Safety

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Teenage drivers are disproportionately involved in fatal crashes with large trucks, according to the Department of Transportation.

Although the inexperienced drivers make up just six percent of motorists, they account for 19 percent of fatalities.  That's why the transportation agency will hold a "Teens and Trucks" campaign Thursday to educate young drivers about the hazards of the road and how to steer clear of a truck's "No Zones."

"It's about teaching our least experienced and already our highest risk drivers the importance of steering clear of truck's 'No Zones,'" DOT's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator Anne Ferro says.

"The 'No Zone' are the blind spots around a truck, and steering clear of a truck's 'No Zones,' making sure that the truck driver has you in his sites is a sure way to avoid any sort of crash," she explains.

During the demonstration, teens will be staged around a truck's "No Zones" and will be seated in the truck's driver's seat "so that they can see just what those blind spots really are, how extensive they are, and generally, its a sobering message for teens who participate in these events," says Ferro.

The campaign comes just as summer is approaching, a time when it is especially deadly for this age group on the road.

"Between graduation season, start of the summer, this is among the most deadly period for teens on our nation's highways.  In fact, in the summer months, teens are at double the risk for crashes on our roadways," Ferro says.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
May242011

DOT Inspector General Paints Troubling Picture of FAA and Air Traffic Controllers

Comstock/Thinkstock)(WASHINGTON) -- At a hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday, the Department of Transportation's Inspector General Calvin Scovel III testified about recent problems with air traffic controllers -- everything from controllers falling asleep on the job to making operational errors that caused planes to fly too close to each other.

Scovel told the Senate subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security that there are four areas that are particularly challenging for the FAA: identifying and addressing the cause of operational errors, mitigating fatigue, adequately staffing air traffic control facilities and training new controllers.

Scovel also said that FAA statistics show a recent significant increase in operational errors, but the cause of this increase remains unclear.  

"Until FAA takes action to develop comprehensive data... conduct astute trend analyses, and develop timely action plans to address controller workforce risks and vulnerabilities, FAA cannot ensure it has a sufficient number of alert, competent, and certified controllers needed to effectively manage the challenges of the next generation of air traffic control," Scovel said.

According to FAA data, the number of operational errors by controllers increased by 53 percent -- from 1,234 to 1,887 between fiscal year 2009 and 2010. The FAA says it believes the increase is due to a new reporting system that allows controllers to report operational errors without fear of reprisal.

The inspector general indicated that FAA has not yet fully put in place recommendations to identify the causes of controller fatigue or solutions to mitigate the risk.

"Let’s be clear on one thing here and now: it’s unacceptable for a controller to fall asleep on the job.  If they do, they should be removed immediately.  That part is non-negotiable," Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said at the hearing. "Someone 5,000 feet in the air should never wonder if the controller on the ground has nodded off."

The FAA is working to hire and train nearly 11,000 new controllers. The inspector general found that the process does not adequately consider new controllers’ knowledge, skills and ability when assigning them to facilities, and that critical facilities have a high percentage of controllers in training.

Currently, new controllers comprise up to 25 percent of the ATC workforce compared to 15 percent in 2004. However, this percentage can vary extensively by location. For example, Seattle TRACON has 46 percent of its controller workforce in training, while St. Louis TRACON has no controllers in training.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
May052011

DOT Taking Steps to Boost Bus Passenger Safety

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. government is announcing new steps on Thursday to boost the safety of those who travel by bus.

The steps come less than two months after a tour bus carrying gamblers back to New York from a casino in Connecticut crashed in the early morning hours, killing 15 on board.

It's precisely those long haul buses that the government is worried about, and faced with horrific accidents over the years, the Department of Transportation is trying to crack down.

The DOT plans to boost testing standards for bus drivers, and starting this spring and summer, it will conduct spot inspections of tour buses at sporting events, national parks and amusement parks.

The department wants more authority to go after unsafe bus companies that have reopened under a new name after they were forced to shut down, and it also wants to increase fines for bus companies that are operating without permits.

Futhermore, the DOT is setting up a website to help consumers check to see if the bus company they're riding on has a good safety record.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr202011

New Rules for Airlines Increase Penalities for Lost Baggage

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- For Americans who have had their baggage lost on flights, or who have spent hours stuck on the tarmac without being allowed to use the bathrooms, a new set of rules the Department of Transportation put in place Wednesday will come as a relief.

The Obama administration has introduced new passenger protection measures that would impose fines on airlines for losing baggage and bumping travelers from overbooked flights.

Under the new guidelines, airlines would have to reimburse baggage fees in the case of a lost bag, in addition to the compensation they already pay.  There will be an additional charge for unreasonable delays in getting passengers their bags, though the DOT hasn't clarified what it considers unreasonable.

For international flights, air carriers will have to use the fee applied at the beginning of a passenger's itinerary, even if it's with a partner flight.

In recent years, airlines have hiked their fees for checked bags -- some charging as much as $35 for the first piece -- but consumer groups complain that service hasn't improved with the increased cost.  Airlines lost more than two million bags in 2010 and more than 2.1 million in 2009, according to the DOT.

Airlines would also be in double trouble for bumping passengers involuntarily off overbooked airlines.  They would have to pay twice what they pay now if they can't get a passenger on another flight between one to two hours of the original flight.  Airlines currently have to pay $400.  That penalty would double to $800 and increase to $1,300 for a longer delay.

More than 65,000 passengers were unwillingly bumped from their flights last year.

Air carriers would also have to include taxes, fees and other costs -- including what they charge for pillows, checked bags and food -- in the price when advertising their fares.  This requirement, the DOT says, would make it easier for passengers to compare prices among airlines.

Passengers could also hold reservations for 24 hours without paying or incurring a cancellation penalty, a practice that some but not all U.S. carriers allow.

International passengers will also get reprieve from long delays on the tarmac.  Foreign carriers and international flights would only be allowed a stay on the tarmac for a maximum of four hours before they have to return to the gate.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio