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AGC of America Demands Caution in Highway Work Zones

This past weekend my brother went down to Cleveland for his college orientation, which was a little weird. When he got back I asked him how it went. I got a shoulder shrug. Did you meet any friends? Another unenthusiastic shrug that was clearly a, “How many more questions are you gonna ask?” shrug. I asked him if he hit any traffic. He looked at me for a second then said, “Of insert expletive here course!” I laughed. Why? Because after almost 10 years of driving from Buffalo through Cleveland and across the state of Ohio to Indiana and Illinois for soccer tournaments we both know that no matter what, at this one interchange as you approach The Rock and Roll Capital of the World, you’re going to hit some traffic and some highway construction. After a few hours in the car hitting those orange construction signs that indicate that you have to drop your speed down to 45 or 55 is about as deflating as a balloon in a forest of needles. As annoying as those speed zones can be you understand that their presence there is necessary and you respect that. Still, there are some that ignore those road signs and maintain their speed thereby increasing the chances of something going wrong.

The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) have just concluded a study on highway work zone safety that a whopping 45 percent of highway contractors had a motor vehicle crash into their work zone. That’s almost half! While I’m sure you could have done that math yourself that’s still an obscene amount of workplace accidents, especially if your loved one or someone you know is working in that environment. Although, according to the AGC those vehicle operators and passengers that crashed into a highway work zone had a higher mortality rate than the construction workers in that work zone.

“There is little margin for error when you work within a few inches of thousands of fast-moving vehicles,” said Tom Case, the chair of the association’s national highway and transportation division and senior vice president of Watsonville, Calif.-based Granite Construction. “As the data makes clear, not enough drivers are slowing down and staying alert near work sites.”

So if you’re driving please slow down and stay alert when you enter a work zone and, if you’re a highway contractor, thank you for keeping our roadways clean and smooth. Stay safe!

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AGC of America Call for Cautious Optimism

2013 was a good year for most contractors in the United States, as nearly 60% of metros added construction jobs between January 2013 and January 2014. These estimates are just part of a recently released analysis of federal employment data compiled by the Associated General Contractors of America Association (AGC). Despite the estimates, many in the industry are still wary of a potential decline in 2014.

Ken Simonson, the chief economist of the organization, was encouraged by the increase in construction jobs, “despite the severe winter conditions in much of the country this January.” But, he cautioned the public to understand that, “the industry’s recovery has a long way to go with only a smattering of metro areas exceeding their previous peak January level of employment.”

Some of the greatest losses were felt in Gary, IN, an old Midwest steel town that sits just south of Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan. Walking through the streets, you would never guess that the city once housed close to 200,000 people, and was one of the greatest steel manufacturers in the United States for over 60 years. Now, Gary lies abandoned (6,500 of the 7,000 city-owned properties are abandoned). The steel factory only employs around 5,000 people, and the population is not getting any younger. Criminals and drug users now seek out the formerly occupied homes and businesses as places of refuge, because the city cannot monitor all of its properties, which has led to a proposition by the city to cut off city services to 40% of the city’s land and relocate residents to more viable parts of Gary.

With the city looking to down-size in 2013, approximately 4,400 construction jobs (or 25% of all construction jobs in Gary) were lost. The outlook may be bleak, but there may be some degree of hope for the struggling steel town. Located only an hour and a half from Chicago, and with a multitude of waterfront properties on Lake Michigan, Gary has some assets that could make it a compelling investment a few years down the road. The only way to take advantage of those assets comes from greater access to public transportation, in this case a railway that will represent a significant investment for the city of Gary that could pay dividends in the future.

Karen Freeman-Wilson, the city mayor, is planning on asking the City Council to appropriate 20% of the city’s county economic development income tax toward the expansion of the South Shore railway. The extension of the line will bring in construction jobs, decrease the commute time from Gary to downtown Chicago, and could potentially increase both Gary’s population and property value within the city.

Roadways, railways, and other public transportation projects have been the backbone of economic growth since the 1930s, and it has been construction workers and contractors who have seen that work through. There are plenty of cities in the United States that have stories similar to Gary, stories that could be a lot happier if there were greater investment in public projects in the future. In order to reach that better future, we will need to build it first.

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FMCSA Proposes Electronic Logging Devices to Combat Falsified Records

On January 27, 2014, a crash involving a tractor trailer and two other vehicles resulted in the death of an Illinois Tollway worker, left an Illinois State Police trooper severely injured. 39-year-old Vincent Petrella had parked his tollway vehicle beside a disabled tractor trailer on Interstate 88 and was soon joined by state trooper Douglas Balder. The two men were helping the stranded semi-driver when they were struck by a truck driven by Renato Velasquez. Petrella died at the scene, while Balder managed to pull himself from the fiery wreck.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration recently ordered DND International Inc., the truck company in question, to immediately shut down, citing the business’ noncompliance with federal safety regulations. Upon the conclusion of their investigation, the FMCSA found that, “for a period of 26-hours during Jan. 26-27, Velasquez operated a tractor-trailer for approximately 1,000 miles, only resting between 3 ½ to 5 ½ hours – well short of the federally required rest period.”

Truck companies are required by law to cross reference toll transaction information with drivers’ logs in order to monitor the number of hours their drivers have worked. These standards are designed to keep drivers from driving fatigued (which can be more dangerous than driving drunk). Employees of DND International routinely falsified their drivers’ logs, thereby placing other automobile operators in Illinois at risk.

To reduce the amount of falsified logs and safety violations, the FMCSA has proposed that interstate commercial truck and bus companies will be required by law to use Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) in their vehicles. According to the Associated General Contractors of America website, the devices would, “track latitude and longitude, log engine hours and odometer readings. It would record location every 60 minutes and report whether the engine is on or off. This could be accomplished through satellite or land-based tracking. GPS could be used but would not be mandated.”

ELDs are just one way in which the FMCSA has attempted to boost road safety within the past couple months. There has been some opposition to some of the proposed safety changes, such as the change to the hours of service regulations, but many seem to be in favor of the electronic regulation of driver hours. Safe travels!