Article December 28, 2000
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Different places, different speeds

When Congress repealed the national maximum speed limit in 1995, state governments again became responsible for setting speed limits on highways. Since then, legislatures in every state, with the exception of Hawaii, have raised speed limits on interstate highways and other major roads, renewing interest in how speed limits are established. A new National Research Council report reviews current practice and offers guidance for setting and enforcing speed limits on all types of roads. However, it stops short of recommending specific numeric speed limits, because road and traffic conditions vary too widely to justify a “one-size-fits-all” approach, according to the council.

There is no single “right” answer in setting appropriate speed limits, the report said. Every speed limit represents a trade-off between safety and travel time, and reflects attempts to achieve an appropriate balance between these two competing goals for different road classes, such as freeways, local roads and residential streets. While a strong link between vehicle speed and crash severity supports the need for setting maximum limits on high-speed roads, legislators setting specific limits may assign different priorities to key factors such as safety, travel time, enforcement costs and community concerns. Moreover, the available data does not provide an adequate basis for precisely quantifying the effects that changes in speed limits have on driving speeds, safety and travel time on different roads.

The study was sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Federal Highway Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

No such thing as a free bridge?

The Wisconsin DOT recently offered a historic truss bridge free of charge for relocation to make way for a new structure. The Boscobel Bridge is an eight-span parker overhead truss bridge built in 1936 by Midland Structural Steel Co., Cicero, Ill. The structure has an overall length of 1,209 ft, 9 in. Spans two through seven are curved chord pratt trusses that are 167 ft long, while span eight is 169 ft long with a clear roadway width of 24 ft. Span one, on the north end, is a flared reinforced concrete deck girder that varies from 27 to 47 ft in width and is 38 ft, 9 in. long.

This is just a test . . .

A simulated severe winter ice storm triggered a major winter storm exercise to review the ability of state agencies in Pennsylvania to respond to a severe ice storm that leaves the Keystone State with major power outages, collapsed buildings and road closures. The day-long exercise involved more than 17 state agencies, health-care facilities and electric-power utilities.

Charles F. Wynne, director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, said that the exercise began with the aftermath of a simulated ice storm affecting 21 counties and the governor’s disaster declaration. Activation of the state emergency operation center with full staff response during the exercise was the same as response to an actual emergency.

“It is essential that disaster-response personnel be prepared for all emergencies, including severe winter ice and snow storms,” said Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Mark S. Schweiker, chairman of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Council. “This exercise provided us with the opportunity to look at several issues such as collapsed buildings, massive power outages and emergency public information.”

Toys for future CEOs

How do you get to the top of corporate America? According to a survey of business leaders who began their careers as engineers, a good start might just be the right toy. While Furby, video games and remote-controlled cars may have been the hottest presents under the tree this past holiday season, parents looking to encourage a future captain of industry might do well to consider plain old Tinker Toys.

The informational survey, conducted by the National Engineers Week Committee, asked engineers who currently serve as corporate executives in a variety of large companies what toys sparked their love of engineering and, in turn, led to their leadership positions. According to interviews by the committee, Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs and chemistry sets were consistently named as childhood gifts that inspired them professionally.

“I loved Tinker Toys,” said Glen A. Barton, whose devotion to the wooden dowels and hubs translated into an early engineering interest that led to his current position as vice chairman of Caterpillar.

For Dennis Dick, corporate vice president at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and general manager of its chemical division, it was the gift of a chemistry set that focused his engineering outlook. “The Gilbert chemistry set developed a strong interest in science and technology,” he said. “That interest was the major factor in my decision to pursue a career in chemical engineering.” He also recalled spending hours playing with an Erector Set.

Near and deer

According to the Wisconsin DOT (WisDOT), the highest incidence of motor vehicle-deer crashes (38%) occur in October-November and the second highest period (16%) occur in May or June, which are non-deicing periods of the year. This disproves the theory of groups blaming salt for luring deer to the roadside, according to the Salt Institute Report.

“In 1997, Wisconsin recorded a total of 19,167 vehicle-deer crashes resulting in seven fatalities and 735 injuries,” said WisDOT Secretary Charles H. Thompson. October-November includes deer breeding or rut season and the state’s hunting season causes deer to move around more. The May-June time frame is when yearlings also tend to separate from the family unit and when roadsides become attractive feeding areas due to the availability of greener, lusher grasses.

Gas choices making the ‘grade’

American motorists generally buy the correct grade of gasoline for their vehicles—and are not purchasing too much premium gasoline, according to a new American Petroleum Institute study. The study shows that the average octane level of all gasoline purchased matches almost exactly the average octane level required by engines.

The study also concludes that no simple rule of thumb exists for determining the grade of gasoline most appropriate for an individual consumer and his vehicle. Many factors should be taken into account, including vehicle characteristics, driving habits and even climate and geography.

The average octane level required for all vehicles, according to data from the Coordinating Research Council (CRC), is 88; the average octane level for all fuel sold is 88. About 19% of vehicles required premium gasoline, and according to the study, premium sales accounted for 20% of the market. Too much regular grade—and not enough mid-grade—gasoline is sold based on CRC vehicle requirements. In 1994, some 62% of vehicles could be satisfied by the octane contained in regular gasoline. However, regular gasoline sales constituted 67.7% of the market. In contrast, 19% of vehicles required mid-grade, which constituted only 12% of gasoline sold.

Wrestling with funding

When Minnesota voters elected Jesse Ventura, former pro wrestler turned governor, and Norm Coleman, who both ran on the no new taxes pledge, with 72% of the total votes, they sent a clear message that they don’t want taxes raised in the Gopher State. This may spell trouble for highway proponents because the last gas tax increase was in 1988 and prior to that in 1975, the gas tax was raised from 7 cents to 9 cents per gal and 13 years later it had grown to 20 cents. Ten years later the tax remains the same. The information from the DOT shows that the license plate fees are now generating approximately as much money as the gas tax. Ventura has stated he is a person who believes in user fees and that people that use highways should pay their own way. According to the Concrete Conveyor Newsletter from the Concrete Paving Association of Minnesota, the money collected from the sale of vehicles in Minnesota does not go to the highway fund. The group would like to see the money dedicated towards highways, thereby collecting all fees associated with highways and automobiles in Minnesota and allowing an increase in the amount of highway dollars available by matching the federal dollars available under TEA-21.

Stargazing tragedies

A meteor shower was the cause of several traffic accidents in Japan last fall. The Leonid shower is caused by the Earth’s passage through the long tail of the Comet Tempel-Tuttle. The showers occur each November, but are a sight to behold every 33 years when the comet speeds through the inner solar system and sheds particles as it nears the sun. A 19-year-old student stargazing in Kanagawa state near Tokyo fell 50 ft from a bridge to her death when she reached for her shawl, which had blown off. Four more people died in traffic accidents on the way to or from stargazing throughout Japan, and another person died in an accident caused by a driver that was distracted by the stars, according Kyodo News agency.

Bus barrels off bridge

A bus flew off the north end of the Aurora Bridge in Seattle the day after Thanksgiving after the driver was shot by one of the passengers. The driver of the bus was thrown free and killed as the bus fell about 50 ft, smashing into the roof and front of a two-story apartment house before coming to rest in the building’s yard. Police said the driver, after being shot, lost control of the southbound bus and it careened across the northbound lanes and off the north end of the bridge that crosses the Lake Washington Ship Canal. The 60-ft articulated bus was ripped apart by the fall from the bridge. Its two 30-ft sections lay at right angles as bystanders attempted to help the victims of the crash. No one on the ground was hurt, but 19 passengers were hospitalized. The landmark bridge, a four-lane highway that is one of Seattle’s busiest thoroughfares, rises hundreds of feet above the ship canal at the west end of Lake Union. The accident occurred in the afternoon, backing up traffic for miles in both directions on the busy post-Thanksgiving shopping day.

Crashing for safety

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently announced it will crash test 63 model year 1999 vehicles to garner information that will help consumers make buying decisions, including, for the first time, results of side impact crash tests of sport utility vehicles, minivans and pickup trucks.

“Safety is President Clinton’s highest transportation priority,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney E. Slater said. “These tests will help provide safety information for consumers shopping for family transportation.” The U.S. DOT’s safety agency said it will crash test 26 passenger cars, 18 sport utility vehicles, 7 vans and 12 pickups in its New Car Assessment Program (NCAP). Thirty-two vehicles will be crashed in the frontal direction and 31 vehicles will be crashed from the side. Once the crash testing is completed, NHTSA estimates that frontal safety information can be provided to consumers on 70% of the model year 1999 vehicles sold in the U.S. The agency will provide side impact safety information on about 80% of the vehicles sold in the U.S.

“These tests help give consumers the information needed to choose the best vehicle safety protection for themselves and their families,” said Dr. Ricardo Martinez, NHTSA administrator.

Save the trees

What is the value of a tree? It could be pretty steep if you have to remove the tree because it is too close to a road. The older and larger the tree, the more valuable. In the past, landscapers had to use giant tree spades or other cumbersome methods to replant trees bigger than 10-in. in diameter, often at high risk to the tree’s survival and at prohibitive prices that range from $7,000 to $15,000 per tree, according to The Bridge, a newsletter from the Transportation Center of Michigan Technology University. Therefore, many of the bigger trees had to be cut down.

Bryan Williams, founder of Trees Please in Oxford, Mich., is championing a technique that can move the big trees successfully at a fraction of the cost. The system was designed to move balls of earth and roots weighing up to 20 tons with a minimum of excavation, equipment and disruption to the tree. The “Newman Frame and Tree Mover” is named for its inventor, Chris Newman, a onetime British Corporate airplane pilot who became devoted to the cause of mature-tree transplantation. Williams trained in the process and became the first to use it and exclusive licensee to sell the equipment in the U.S. He now regularly moves trees up to 30-in. in diameter with crowns 30- to 40-ft tall.

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