Friday, September 24, 2010

Official release: GDOT, SRTA Boards Approve GA400 Lease Extension

Toll Funds to Be Used for Improvements to GA400

State Route 400, also known as GA400, is now in position to receive a series of improvements that will reduce travel times on GA400, many adjoining surface roads, and at its interchange with Interstate 85. The projects have been developed between the State Road & Tollway Authority (SRTA) and Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) after considerable input from many metro Atlanta government officials, civic leaders and business executives.

The State Transportation Board approved extending the ground lease for GA400 to SRTA until September 20, 2020. The SRTA Board also approved the lease extension as well as a resolution to issue toll revenue bonds and to establish the toll rate and the toll expiration date. The new bond would be paid for with tolls set at the same rates that are in place today.

“Metro Atlanta and the GA400 corridor have experienced phenomenal growth since this road first opened 20 years ago,” said Governor Sonny Perdue. “While growth was expected, nobody could have foreseen the amount of growth that has taken place. Both the roadway and its interchanges are in desperate need of improvements to better manage traffic flow. A plan is in place and can now be implemented to make those much-needed improvements.”

New connector ramps that join GA400 and I-85 are specified in the new lease agreement. The connector ramps were part of the original plans for GA400 when the road was first built but were excluded because of budget. Cost to build the ramps at the time was approximately $21.5 million. Today, the cost is projected to be $40 million and an initial scheduling projection states the ramps can be completed in 2013. According to GDOT, if a new toll is not used to fund the project the earliest that this or any other GA400 improvement project could take place is 2020.

“I had the privilege of being involved with GA400 when it was first conceived as a way to open the north Georgia suburbs to Downtown Atlanta,” said Tom Moreland, former GDOT Commissioner and head of Moreland Altobelli Associates, Inc. “That was a very different time. We anticipated a lot of growth, but you have to remember that this was at least five years before we knew Atlanta was even getting the Olympics. There’s no way that any of us could have anticipated the growth that Metro Atlanta has experienced. A lot has changed since then, but tollways are still one of the best ways to effectively build, improve and maintain intercity expressways and GA400 is no different. Keeping the tollway makes perfect sense.”

SRTA and GDOT initially developed a list of 160 possible projects with input from the North Fulton Atlanta Mayors Association; Buckhead, North Fulton and Perimeter CIDs; Atlanta Regional Commission, Georgia Regional Transportation Authority and various city and county planning and transportation entities. Those projects were then reviewed based on their impact to GA400 corridor, mobility, strategic objectives and project schedule. The short-list of 11 projects ranked the highest based on these criteria.

“SRTA and GDOT have been jointly exploring many different options for GA400, which include both removing and keeping the tollway,” said SRTA Executive Director Gena Evans. “After a significant amount of input from community groups and civic and business leaders, SRTA is recommending that a new toll be implemented to fund much needed improvements along the GA400 corridor.”

The next step is to solicit public comments on the projects for a 30-day period. This comment period will look much like the GDOT Open Houses before a project is confirmed.

The 11 projects that are recommended for implementation are:

· New ramps that connect GA400 and I-85 so motorists no longer need to travel on local surface streets, saving 4 to 7 minutes of travel time;

· Improving the GA400 southbound to I-85 southbound merge so GA400 has a dedicated lane in I-85;

· Widening GA400 from McFarland Rd. to SR20 with a third general purpose lane;

· Extend the third northbound lane approximately ¾ miles to enhance the transition from the existing four lanes to two lanes near McFarland Rd that extend to SR20 in Forsyth County;

· Extend the Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) and Highway Emergency Response Order (HERO) north from McFarland Rd to SR20 by providing video detection and ramp metering to more effectively manage congestion and reduce the impact of incidences along GA400;

· Install ITS from Barnwell Rd on SR140/Holcomb Bridge Rd to SR9/Alpharetta Street, utilizing existing Active Traffic Management System devices to optimize costs and coordinate with the existing City of Roswell traffic infrastructure;

· Construct a triple left turn lane for the Mansell Road corridor between the GA400 northbound exit ramp (Exit 8) and the North Point Parkway intersection with Mansell Rd to accommodate planned growth from the current 18,650 cars per day to the projected 59,700 cars per day in 2034;

· Continue funding the GRTA Xpress service from Forsyth County to the North Springs MARTA rail station near Perimeter Center and direct service to Downtown Atlanta from Cumming;

· Reconstruct the ramp from westbound Abernathy to northbound GA400 to allow motorists additional time and distance to merge onto GA400; and

· Increase capacity and make operational improvements to the three intersections that directly tie into the Northridge Road intersection at GA400, which are Northridge Road at Dunwoody Place, Roberts Drive and Somerset Court, and Roberts Drive and Dunwoody Place, and add a traffic roundabout at Somerset Court to the east; and

· Initiate Preliminary Engineering (PE) of managed lanes between I-285 and McFarland Road.

GDOT has final approval over plans and specifications for any such construction projects before they can be put out to bid.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis announces partnership with US Department of Transportation to combat distracted driving by workers

/PRNewswire/ -- Because motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of worker fatalities, Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis today announced a partnership between the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation to combat distracted driving.

"It is imperative that employers eliminate financial and other incentives that encourage workers to text while driving," said Secretary Solis. "It is well recognized that texting while driving dramatically increases the risk of a motor vehicle injury or fatality."

Prohibiting texting while driving is the subject of an executive order signed by President Barack Obama last year for federal employees and the subject of rulemaking by the Department of Transportation.

OSHA is launching a multi-pronged initiative that includes:

* An education campaign for employers, to be launched during "Drive Safely Work Week" in early October, will call on employers to prevent occupationally related distracted driving, with a special focus on prohibiting texting while driving.
* An open letter to employers to be posted on OSHA's website, http://www.osha.gov during "Drive Safely Work Week." The website also will showcase model employer policies and encourage employer and labor associations to communicate OSHA's message.
* Alliances with the National Safety Council and other key organizations as outreach to employers, especially small employers, aimed at combating distracted driving and prohibit texting while driving.
* Special emphasis on reaching younger workers by coordinating with other Labor Department agencies as well as alliance partners and stakeholders.
* Investigating issue citations and penalties where necessary to end the practice when OSHA receives a credible complaint that an employer requires texting while driving.


"We call upon all employers to prohibit any work policy or practice that requires or encourages workers to text while driving," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels. "The Occupational Safety and Health Act is clear; employers must provide a workplace free of recognized hazards."

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to assure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Car Seat Inspections Offered Nationwide as Part of Child Passenger Safety Week

From Savannah to Kennesaw, car seat inspections will happen at many points throughout Georgia on Saturday, September 25.

/PRNewswire/ -- Safe Kids USA and its network of coalitions will inspect thousands of child safety seats during Child Passenger Safety Week (September 19-25) by conducting more than 400 car seat checkup events for families and their children across the nation. Nationally certified child passenger safety technicians will lead the inspection events and deliver hands-on education to parents and caregivers throughout the week.

In partnership with the General Motors Foundation since 1997, Safe Kids Buckle Up, the child passenger safety program of Safe Kids USA, has inspected 1.28 million car seats; held approximately 65,000 car seat checkup events around the country; donated more than 457,000 car seats to families in need and educated more than 21 million parents and caregivers.

Research shows that as children age, they are less likely to be in the appropriate child safety seat for their age and weight," said Torine Creppy, Director of Safe Kids USA Buckle Up programs. "Safe Kids USA would like to change that by helping assure that each child in a vehicle is properly protected. Every child deserves to grow up safely, and we are pleased to work through our coalitions at the state and local levels to promote and improve child safety in vehicles during this week."

Safe Kids coalitions will also join the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in activities to support Seat Check Saturday on September 25.

"When it comes to child passenger safety, there is absolutely no room for error. It's critical that parents and caregivers understand how to properly install their child seats in their vehicles," said Administrator David Strickland, U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. "We urge parents to visit one of the thousands of seat check sites across the nation to ensure kids are safely buckled up – every trip, every time."

Checkup events will be held in locations convenient for families. Parents and caregivers can locate a Safe Kids Buckle Up checkup event in their community by visiting www.safekids.org.

"General Motors commends the many committed members of the Safe Kids community and their partners who dedicate their time and expertise to improve child safety during this week of focus and throughout the year," said Michael J. Robinson, General Motors vice president of Environment, Energy and Safety Policy.

A 2008 report from NHTSA shows that children from birth to age 1 were in a car seat 99 percent of the time. Children from ages 1-3 were in car seats 92 percent of the time and kids 4-7 were in seats 89 percent of the time. Sadly, as kids get to be between 8-12 they ride in a restraint only 85 percent of the time.

Also according to NHTSA, child safety seats reduce the risk of death for infants (under 1 year old) in a vehicle crash by 71 percent, and reduce the risk to toddlers (1 to 4 years old) by 54 percent. All 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have laws requiring children to be restrained while riding in cars.

Parents and caregivers should follow a few basic guidelines to determine which restraint system is best suited to protect their children in a vehicle:

* For the best possible protection, keep infants in a back seat, in rear-facing child safety seats, as long as possible—up to the height or weight limit of the particular seat. Never turn a child forward-facing before age 1 and at least 20 pounds, although keeping kids rear-facing until at least age 2 is safer and preferred if the seat allows.
* When children outgrow their rear-facing seats, they should ride in forward-facing child safety seats, in a back seat, until they reach the upper weight or height limit of the particular harnessed seat. Many newer seats exceed the old 40 pound weight limit.
* Once children outgrow their forward-facing seats, they should ride in booster seats, in the back seat, until the vehicle seat belts fit properly.
* Seat belts fit properly when the lap belt lays across the upper thighs and the shoulder belt rests on the shoulder or collar bone (usually when the child is between 8 and 12 years old, approximately 4'9" tall and 80 to 100 pounds).

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fifty Propane Autogas Vehicles Hit the Roads in Florida, Georgia as Part of Department of Energy Clean Cities Alternative Fuel Program

/PRNewswire/ -- West Palm Beach, Florida-based Peninsula Propane and Pendergrass, Georgia-based Force 911 converted 50 vehicles from gasoline to clean propane Autogas last month as part of the groundbreaking Southeast Propane Autogas Development Program. The $8.6 million Recovery Act-funded Program will put nearly 1,200 propane Autogas vehicles on the road in nine Southeast states and Washington D.C., implement at least 20 refueling stations, and create dozens of American jobs.

"Thanks to our dedicated partners, we are making tremendous progress on the deployment of this extensive Program," says Chelsea Jenkins, the director of Virginia Clean Cities at James Madison University, which is managing the Program. "With the DOE funding and the Program participants who are leading the way in adopting alternative fuels, we are advancing the use of green fuels and technologies in the Southeast."

Peninsula Propane is an affiliate of a paratransit, shuttle and taxi company with more than 1,200 transport vehicles in South Florida. John Obeid, a Peninsula Propane managing partner, says the company became a certified propane Autogas vehicle conversion center more than a year ago because they're dedicated to reducing the area's vehicle emissions.

"Propane Autogas vehicles are cleaner than gasoline vehicles, and they have a history of lasting longer and saving fleets money," says Obeid. "Many of our vehicles chart 75,000 to 100,000 miles per year, so if we convert our vehicles to propane Autogas, and convert other Florida fleet vehicles, the displaced emissions and gasoline will add up quickly." Peninsula Propane converted 6 vehicles in August and is scheduled to convert a total of 250 of their vehicles.

Force 911 is a full-service law enforcement vehicle outfitter and a certified conversion center for the Program. The center works with government agencies to provide customized vehicles based on their specified needs, such as K9 transport systems, prisoner transport units, and bi-fuel propane Autogas vehicle conversions. Force 911 has already converted 44 vehicles from gasoline to propane Autogas for Carroll and Cobb County fleets in Georgia and is scheduled to perform more than 200 vehicle conversions under the Program.

Force 911 President Wayne Abbs says: "We are proud to be a part of this project and provide Georgia law enforcement agencies with low-emissions propane Autogas vehicles. Vehicle performance is paramount for officers, and propane Autogas vehicles provide virtually the same power as gasoline vehicles while reducing emissions and using a domestic fuel source."

Peninsula Propane and Force 911 were trained and certified by Alliance AutoGas, a national network that provides shovel-ready propane Autogas vehicle solutions to public and private fleets. Alliance AutoGas - with founding partners Blossman Gas (the largest independent propane supply company in the nation) and American Alternative Fuel (alternative fuel vehicle systems specialists) - is training technicians to perform the vehicle conversions for the Program, installing the refueling stations and supplying the propane Autogas fuel.

"Propane Autogas is a clean, domestic and cost-effective fuel that's available now, and this Program, along with the other ARRA-funded projects, are contributing more than 250 propane Autogas refueling stations to an already-strong national refueling network," says Stuart Weidie, Alliance AutoGas president and Autogas for America founder. "This project is making it easier for fleets to fuel up with Autogas, but it's also a major step toward bringing Autogas into the national alternative fuels discussion."

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