Call to Order and Roll Call
The3rd meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Transportation was held on<Day> Tuesday, August 2, 2016, at 1:00 PM, in Room 149 of the Capitol Annex. Representative Hubert Collins, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll. The minutes of the Committee’s July 5, 2016 meeting were approved.
Members:Senator Ernie Harris, Co-Chair; Representative Hubert Collins, Co-Chair; Senators Joe Bowen, C.B. Embry Jr., Jimmy Higdon, Gerald A. Neal, Dorsey Ridley, Albert Robinson, Brandon Smith, Johnny Ray Turner, Whitney Westerfield, and Mike Wilson; Representatives Tim Couch, Donna Mayfield, Tom McKee, Russ A. Meyer, Charles Miller, Jerry T. Miller, Terry Mills, Rick G. Nelson, Marie Rader, Steve Riggs, Sal Santoro, John Short, Arnold Simpson, Diane St. Onge, Fitz Steele, Jim Stewart III, Tommy Turner, David Watkins, and Addia Wuchner.
Guests: Jon Wilcoxson, Director, Division of Maintenance, KYTC; Lynn, Soporowski, Transportation Engineering Branch Manager, KYTC; Don Sammons, Police Chief, Raceland, KY; Senator Robin Webb; and Dixie Moore, bicycle safety advocate.
Transportation Cabinet Presentation: Maintenance Activities
Jon Wilcoxson, Director, Division of Maintenance, KYTC testified about the Transportation Cabinet’s maintenance activities. Director Wilcoxson stated the major assets maintained by the Department of Highways include 63,500 lane miles of pavement, 9,016 bridges, 5,000 traffic signals/flashing beacons/school flashers, 25,000 roadway lighting fixtures, 550,000 traffic signs, 4,500 miles of guardrail, 200,000 acres of right-of-way (approximately 100,000 of which is mowed and maintained), 22 rest areas, and 14 weigh stations. KYTC manages fence repairs, barrier wall repairs, curb repairs, shoulder grades, and pollinator/wildflower issues. There has been a 6 percent increase in funding in the maintenance budget between 2005 and 2010. The increase was consistent with increases in material and contracting costs over the same period. The 1 percent increase since 2010 has not kept pace with inflation. The construction cost index since 2010 has averaged 5.1 percent per year.
The FY 2017 maintenance budget is $347.5 million. Of that amount, roadway maintenance is $275.6 million, rest area maintenance is $9.1 million, bridge maintenance is $25.3 million, traffic maintenance is $36.7 million, and new guardrail expense is $0.8 million. These figures do not include construction or resurfacing funding.
Rest area maintenance covers 22 rest areas (not including the Hart County rest area that was destroyed in a fire earlier this year), 14 weigh stations, 4 truck havens, janitorial and landscaping service contracts, utilities, and minor facility upkeep. New guardrail maintenance covers installation of new guardrails on state highways; priorities are based on severity. Guardrail maintenance is matched by the Highway Safety and Improvement Program; the funding total is $1.5 million.
Bridge maintenance totals $25.25 million, which includes deck replacement, structural steel repairs, expansion on joint repair/replacement, piers and other substructure repairs, painting steel structural members, and emergency repairs, but does not include major rehabilitation of bridges, which is funded by the highway plan. Traffic maintenance is budgeted at $36.7 million this fiscal year and consists of traffic signal installation, operations, and repairs, bridge navigational lighting, roadway lighting operations and maintenance, utility costs for all electrical installations, and new sign installation.
Roadway maintenance includes snow and ice response, tree removal and trimming, mowing, guardrail repair, landslide repair, weed control, pothole patching, slope protection, striping, litter/dead animal pickup, sweeping, ditching, crack sealing, drainage repairs, pipe/culvert repair, intelligent transportation systems, sign repair and replacement, and pavement markings.
Director Wilcoxson stated the historic spending on snow and ice removal averages approximately $60 million, with some years only seeing a cost of approximately $30-$35 million and some years seeing a cost of approximately $90 million. Snow and ice costs for 2015-2016 consists of contract retrofit costs of $12 million, hourly contract costs of approximately $5.4 million, material costs of $21.1 million, KYTC equipment costs of $6.3 million, KYTC labor costs of approximately $19.5 million and emergency equipment rental costs of approximately $0.5 million, totaling a cost of $64.8 million. The contracts are for a seven year period. Contract costs are $90 per hour when the contract services are actually used. In the average year, $21.1 million in material cost is used, which includes the cost of salt, calcium chloride, and salt brine. During an average year, approximately 255,000 tons of salt is used. The cost of salt per ton is usually $70 to $80. There has been as much as 450,000 tons of salt used in a year.
Director Wilcoxson outlined a cost comparison between contract labor and KYTC labor efforts for snow plow costs. Costs of equipment and labor for contract workers to complete the job is approximately $17,400,000. The cabinet spends an additional $9,993,000 on equipment and labor costs for snow plows. There are approximately 60,000 total truck hours contracted for snow plows and snow removal, and approximately 127,403 total truck hours dedicated for snow plows and snow removal from KYTC. The cost per truck hour for contract jobs is approximately $290 per hour and $78 an hour for KYTC. These figures are preliminary. More research is needed to confirm all costs have been included.
The cabinet is reviewing snow and ice policies to identify opportunities for improved efficiency. It is focusing on reducing waste and ensuring priorities are properly addressed. The cabinet is increasing use of technology to improve performance and communication with the public.
Other major FY 2016 approximated costs include pipe/drainage/ditch repair at $34.3 million, mowing at $26.4 million, rock fall/landslide repair at $22.4 million, tree/brush cutting and removal at $21.0 million, pavement patching at $15.1 million, striping at $13.2 million, guardrail repair at $11.8 million, and pothole patching at $8.2 million.
Director Wilcoxson stated that major assets added over the past ten years include 2,125 lane miles of pavement, 174 bridges, and 252 miles of cable guardrail (with an approximate cost of $2 million per year to maintain.) There are 579 structurally deficient bridges on state routes, and there are 3,725 miles in need of resurfacing or replacement. This has increased from 1,710 miles in need in 2005. A structurally deficient bridge is one in which its deck, substructure, or superstructure has been rated a four or less on a scale up to nine. This does not mean the bridge is necessarily dangerous or an immediate hazard, but it means the deficiencies need to be addressed soon. There has been a reduction of structurally deficient bridges of about 10 bridges per year. Spending money for preventive maintenance saves money in future years.
Director Wilcoxson addressed issues related to hiring and retaining heavy equipment operators. There has great difficulty in hiring these workers, and many counties only have three to five workers. An example of hiring issues was demonstrated by a recent event needing 12 heavy equipment operators in Fayette and Scott counties. Approximately 130 people were contacted for an interview. Only 13 people agreed to an interview; of those, eight appeared, but only three people had a CDL. Jobs were offered to all 8 people in anticipation that those without a CDL would eventually obtain it before the end of employment probation. It is only expected that 2 of those positions will be filled, but it is possible that none will be filled. Because of the lack of heavy equipment operators, the response time for snow and ice removal is impacted. Director Wilcoxson said that his fear is that, when heavy equipment operators experience their first winter on the job, they will decide the pay is insufficient and may leave employment before the end of winter. The Personnel Cabinet is conducting a salary study that may address the heavy equipment operators’ salary issues.
In response to a question asked by Senator Bowen about the ability to monetize the right of ways (harvesting timber and using those funds being for other governmental functions such a shoring up the pension fund), Director Wilcoxson stated that the idea has not been reviewed but could be researched. He is unaware of the complexities of what that would entail and the potential economic impact it would have.
In response to a questions asked by Representative Steele, Director Wilcoxson stated there are 14 weigh stations. He believes all are in operation, although some need improvement. A study is being conducted by the Personnel Cabinet, but he is unsure of the timeline for its completion.
In response to a question asked by Senator Wilson, Director Wilcoxson stated the length of contracts for different activities such as mowing, landscaping, and snow and ice removal varies. Not all contracts are for seven years. Many vendors were not able to obtain financing unless they could guarantee the banks that they had a sufficiently long guaranteed contract. Seven years may be longer than what is required, and that is being assessed.
In response to a question asked by Senator Wilson concerning the dramatic per hour cost difference between contract labor and KYTC labor per truck cost, Director Wilcoxson stated that he recognized there was a dramatic difference. The rate includes the hourly cost that paid to his division for equipment and its use, and includes the hourly cost for all operators’ retirement and benefits. It does not include supplemental or administrative oversight that occur during snow, but it is the most direct comparison with contract costs.
In response to a question asked by Representative Mills concerning guardrail needs, Director Wilcoxson stated that priority is given based on the severity of the need, crash history, and location slope. In response to a question asked by Representative Mills concerning contract mowers, Director Wilcoxson stated that each district office has someone who administers and monitors the contracts. If there are issues, the district office handles the complaints.
In response to a question by Representative Mills concerning striping, Director Wilcoxson stated that, when the cabinet restripes a road, it is referred to as long line restriping that would cost less than a $1 per foot. On a smaller resurfacing project, the cost may be as much as $1 per foot. The paint type is the same, but a thicker and wider line is used on interstates and higher speed roadways, resulting in more paint used and a larger cost. Longevity of the striping has several variables. Striping may not last as long on a narrow road where people may drive on the center line more frequently. Striping may not last as long in eastern Kentucky due to coal dust. Director Wilcoxson stated he would forward Representative Mills’ suggestion about providing salary adjustments for heavy equipment operators by using the Transportation budget funds to make those adjustments.
In response to a question asked by Representative Wuchner, Director Wilcoxson stated that delaying the mowing of the right-of-ways has been used as a money saving tactic. Medians continue to be mowed, but the sides of roadways will be mowed in the fall. Representative Wuchner also voiced her concerns about the amount of money landowners are spending for chemicals needed due to thistle and blooms blowing onto their farms and properties. Director Wilcoxson stated the mowing program is being investigated and may be changed.
In response to a question asked by Representative Wuchner, Director Wilcoxson stated the salary range for a Heavy Equipment Operator I is approximately $10.20 per hour, and $10.80 per hour after the probationary period is completed. He believes the salary range for a Heavy Equipment Operator II and III is between $15.00 to $17.00 per hour.
In response to a question asked by Senator Higdon, Director Wilcoxson stated the salary study that is being completed for heavy equipment operators is based on a 40 hour work week. Senator Higdon expressed frustration about excessive use of guardrail on certain projects while other projects have difficulty receiving the guardrail needed. Director Wilcoxson stated that old guardrail that may not meet current standards may be replaced when a new construction or certain maintenance projects are in progress.
In response to a question asked by Chairman Collins concerning reimbursement from a liable party’s insurance company to replace guardrail after it has been damaged, Director Wilcoxson stated the cabinet tries to collect funds for repair from insurance companies after accidents occur. The cabinet may not always have the resources needed to track down those funds from insurance companies. Chairman Collins stated he believed it would be worth the cabinet’s efforts to track and utilize insurance information.
In response to a concern St. Onge voiced about the cost of contracting out jobs, Director Wilcoxson stated contracts are put up for bid upon expiration.
In response to a question asked by Representative McKee, Director Wilcoxson stated the Hart County rest area is not in operation due to a fire. The cabinet is working to replace it. The rest area on I-64 in Montgomery County has been closed for several years due to sewer issues and structural problems with the building. The cost to repair the Montgomery County rest area is several million dollars. The rest area maintenance fund is only about $9 million per year.
In response to a question asked by Representative Meyer concerning the cabinet providing the ability for counties, specifically Jessamine County, to conduct in-house mowing, Director Wilcoxson stated that if some districts have the resources and the equipment to do accomplish in-house mowing, then that idea may be supported.
In response to a question asked by Senator Robinson concerning the difficulty in hiring heavy equipment operators, Director Wilcoxson stated he does not believe the lack of individuals hired is related to the use of drugs and drug testing possibilities. Rather, the low salary of a heavy equipment operator is related to the difficulty in hiring.
In response to a question asked by Chairman Harris, Director Wilcoxson stated the cost of guardrail is $30 per foot, or approximately $15,000 per mile. Chairman Harris inquired about the use of undercoating to strengthen bridges. Director Wilcoxson stated the undercoating is called CatStrong and is a relatively new tactic used to strengthen bridges. In response to a question asked by Chairman Harris concerning the use of the allegedly unsafe guardrails from a Texas company, Trinity Industries, Director Wilcoxson stated the testing that was completed on those guardrails from that company ultimately found that there was no adverse safety impact on the guardrails.
In response to a question asked by Chairman Collins, Director Wilcoxson stated the last mowing for the season will be between September and November depending on the area and weather conditions. The full width of the right-of-way along highways will be mowed at this time.
In response to a question asked by Chairman Collins, Director Wilcoxson stated the FE budget for this fiscal year is $347 million, which is approximately $25 million less than what was spent in the previous fiscal year. The cabinet was over budget last fiscal year. The cabinet has made some significant modifications to practices over the last several months to make sure that the budget was not greatly exceeded. The cabinet will continue to try to save money, and it will be a challenge and will depend on the severity of winter.
Lynn Soporowski, Transportation Engineering Branch, Division of Planning, KYTC, and Don Sammons, Police Chief, Raceland, spoke in favor of implementation of a bicycle safety law much like 2016 Senate Bill 80. The Transportation Cabinet looks at bicycle safety through the four Es: engineering, education, enforcement, and encouragement. The engineering portion has worked with cities and counties to find out where they have cyclists. Strava heat maps are utilized to find out where cyclists are prevalent. Because of technologies used, the cabinet has an idea of how wide the bicycle lanes should be and where they should be located. The cabinet has worked with bicycle clubs to encourage them to ride together. The cabinet has educated riders and walkers about bicycle safety as well as the drivers and how they should act around cyclists. The cabinet is approaching the enforcement portion of bicycle safety, which allows for officers to only ticket what they actually see occurring. The law requires a safe passing distance, and the proposed three foot law stated that a vehicle must pass a bicyclist by a three foot radius. Enforcement of the three foot law is important.
Don Sammons, Police Chief, Raceland, testified about the role he played in Raceland becoming a top bicyclist destination. Several communities now have bicycle lanes for cyclists to utilize due to the growing interest in bicycling. Because of the growing interest in bicycling, motorists, pedestrians, and children must be educated on how to handle sharing the road and how to respect different types of traffic on roadways. He has been working with Kentucky State Police to design a class on bicycle safety. Kentucky ranks 49th for bicycle friendliness due to lack of law enforcement training on bicycle safety and enforcement.
In response to a question asked by Representative Riggs, Ms. Soporowski stated the highway safety plan shows that bicycle accidents/fatalities have remained fairly consistent since 2010. In 2016, there has been one cyclist killed who was wearing a helmet and three cyclists killed without wearing a helmet.
Representative Jerry Miller stated that he is a bicyclist and realizes it is growing sport and a great way to attract tourists. He questioned the reasoning behind the encouragement for cyclists to ride in groups. Ms. Soporowski stated it is encouraged for cyclists to ride in groups due to the increased safety resulting from the predictability of the group versus a lone cyclist.
Chairman Collins voiced his concern about the danger a three foot passing requirement, especially on the rural roads of Kentucky.
Senator Robin Webb and Dixie Moore, bicycle safety advocate, spoke in favor of a bicycle safety law that includes the three foot radius requirement. Senator Webb complimented Police Chief Sammons and students of Raceland for their community involvement. Senator Webb stated her goal is to increase awareness about bicycle safety and to take the necessary steps to ensure cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers are all aware of the steps needed to ensure safety and to share the road. She said the Kentucky Driver’s Manual mentions that the safe passing distance of three feet.
Ms. Moore, who is a commuter and recreational cyclist, echoed Senator Webb’s comments and said that there have been five bicycle accident fatalities in Kentucky this year. She stressed the need for bicycle safety education and added the proposed bicycle safety law would do just that. Arkansas, Virginia, and West Virginia have a similar law, and there have been no issues concerning the implemented laws and narrow roadways. The current law states that a slow vehicle must not impede the reasonable flow of traffic. This means that, if someone needs to pass a bicyclist on a narrow road and but cannot, then it is the responsibility of the cyclist to pull to the side of the road to allow traffic to pass. Most cyclists are aware of the routes they like to travel and try to avoid dangerous roads. She advocated for share-the-road signs at appropriate locations. She said she has been asked to make a public service announcement on awareness of bicycle safety issues.
Senator Webb recognized KYTC and its efforts in bicycling and bicycle safety. Technology such as Go Pro would aide in the enforcement of a bicycle safety law. In response to a question asked by Representative McKee, Senator Webb stated that more bike lanes are being developed in metropolitan areas, where there is higher bicycle traffic.
Mike Sewell, commuter bicyclist from Louisville, spoke in favor of the proposed bicycle safety law. He cited the practical and economic advantages of being a cyclist. Mr. Les Stapleton, former Kentucky State Policeman and current Mayor of Prestonsburg, supports a proposed bicycle safety law. He stated tourism is a major factor in needing a bicycle safety law to attract bicyclists to small towns where the economy is in need of a boost. In the last two years, there has been an increase from 800 to 2,000 bicyclists per passing through Prestonsburg. The reasons behind the increase are recreational cycling, commuter cycling, and children enjoying bicycling. Mr. Sewell and Mr. Stapleton echoed Ms. Moore and Senator Webb’s comments that education on sharing the road is necessary.
In response to a question asked by Senator Bowen concerning bicyclists riding in groups, Ms. Moore stated when bicyclists ride in groups they tend to divide up to make it easier for traffic to pass, making passing by a three foot radius still possible.
Representative St. Onge stated education is needed and that the proposed bicycle safety law would be a step in the right direction. Bicycling and bike trails would only further showcase the beauty of Kentucky.
Representative Jerry Miller stated he is supportive of the proposed bicycle safety law. He inquired of the possibility to make the law for roads that have center lanes due to the language in Senate Bill 80 from the 2016 Regular Session that references driving to the left of the center line in order to pass a bicyclist. Senator Webb stated she is open to discuss such accommodations.
The committee reviewed Administrative Regulations 600 KAR 1:031; 600 KAR 2:011; 601 KAR 1:032; 601 KAR 9:056; and 601 KAR 15:030. They were not found to be deficient and were not deferred.
With no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 2:57 P.M.