September 30, 2014

Transportation Secretary sees no quick solution to rail car shortage

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx can’t promise any solution this fall to a rail car shortage threatening harvest season.

Farmers need rail cars to move crops, but rail has been diverted to hauling oil from the Bakken oil fields in Montana and North Dakota.

“I don’t think the trend is going to change abruptly any time soon,” Foxx replied when asked about the problem during his recent visit to Lincoln.

Foxx says Washington is aware of the problem.

“Our surface transportation board, along with our rail companies, and along with us in Washington; we’re going to have to figure out a way to create more capacity so the commodities can move,” according to Foxx.

Many in agriculture reject that notion, blaming the problem not on a lack of rail transportation, but on the delay in approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would carry Bakken oil and free rail cars to move crops.

President Barack Obama has yet to decide whether to grant TransCanada’s request for a presidential permit to cross the Canadian border and build the northern portion of the oil pipeline, connecting it with the southern portion, already operating from Cushing, OK to refineries along the Gulf Coast in Texas.

Transportation Secretary touts Grow America Act during Nebraska visit

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx touted the Grow America Act during a stop in Nebraska.

The act is a proposal by the Obama Administration to spend $302 billion over the next four years to shore up the transportation trust fund and provide money for other transportation projects.

Foxx, during a tour of the Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing plant in Lincoln, claimed approval of the act would be an investment in Nebraska.

“It’s also a matter of job creation,” Foxx told reporters. “We have 1,600 people here, about 400-plus who focus on train construction here in this Lincoln plant. And they’re affecting transit systems in Washington, D. C. and the New York area.”

The Kawasaki factory manufactures light rail cars. It spans more than a million square feet in Lincoln, growing over the years and adding to employment.

Foxx said the benefits of encouraging light rail in America extend well beyond the country’s urban areas.

“It is just not true that when you invest in transit you’re just investing in urban places,” according to Foxx. “You’re investing in the people right here in Lincoln, Nebraska.”

Jane Monnich, KLIN, contributed to this report.

Report: Teens who skip driver’s ed more likely to have crashes, convictions

A new study finds young people who don’t take driver’s education courses are more likely to be involved in collisions and they’re much more likely to get ticketed and be found guilty of traffic law violations.

Gail Weinholzer, spokeswoman for AAA-Nebraska, says vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death for teenagers, both in Nebraska and nationwide.

“Children under the age of 18 who do not participate in a driver’s education class are more likely, not only to be in crashes, but to receive convictions,” Weinholzer says. “We’ve got 30 states across the country that require driver’s education in some form and 20 states that do not.”

Nebraska is among the states where driver’s ed is -not- required. Some school districts offer it as a regular course, while other districts direct students to use a private, professional driver’s training company.

“They still have to pass a knowledge test and a behind-the-wheel test but how they acquire that information, that knowledge, that skill base is entirely up to the family,” Weinholzer says. “They can certainly choose to put their child through a driver education course or perhaps parents do it themselves.”

The motor club report found students who took driver’s education courses saw a reduction in crashes by 4.3% and a drop in convictions by nearly 40%. It also found that teens who completed driver’s ed scored higher on the driving exam and demonstrated better knowledge over their peers who had no formal training.


Study: Nebraska’s highways rank #2 in the nation

InterstateA new report shows Nebraska’s highway system ranks among the very best in the country, based on their condition and cost-effectiveness.

The study’s lead author, David Hartgen, with the Reason Foundation, explains how they compile the rankings which show Nebraska at number-two in the nation for the second year in a row.

“Each of the 50 states is required to send detailed information to Washington each year on the condition of pavements and bridges and congestion and so on, and also information on their budgets,” Hartgen says. “We take that information and roll it up and compare it one state versus another, we look at how states are doing on each measure and then how they’re doing overall.”

Nebraska ranks number-one in the nation for rural Interstate pavement condition, 9th in urban Interstate pavement condition and 12th in urban Interstate congestion.

“The interstate system is in pretty good shape,” Hartgen says. “There was no poor mileage reported on the rural interstate for last year and for the urban interstate, only about a half-a-percent of that mileage was rated poor. That’s the 9th best in the country. They also scored pretty well on the rural arterial system.”

In analyzing the budgets for all the billions spent on roads nationwide, Hartgen says the study found Nebraska does a remarkable job, particularly when you consider the size of the state’s road budget.

Interstate 80 shield“Their costs are quite low, relative to other states,” Hartgen says. “On average, they have about half of the amount of money to work with per mile of responsibility than the average state has. So, they have a very thin budget and they’re stretching it out and making it produce a pretty good system.”

Nebraska has ranked number-two in the overall rankings for two years in a row and Hartgen says the Husker State’s been in the top ten for several years. This year, only Wyoming ranked higher. Last year, South Dakota was tops.

On spending, Nebraska ranks 5th in total disbursements per mile and 5th in administrative disbursements per mile. Nebraska’s highways rank 22nd in the fatality rate and 28th in the percentage of deficient bridges. Nebraska’s state-controlled highway mileage makes it the 28th largest system in the country.

To see more on the report, visit:


Expert: Gas prices may fall closer to $3/gallon in Nebraska

gas-pump-111With fall arriving next week, gasoline prices are falling in Nebraska — and one analyst says they may dip closer to $3 a gallon by the end of next month.

Gail Weinholzer, at AAA-Nebraska, says the statewide average price for a gallon of self-service unleaded gas is now $3.35, that’s down seven cents a gallon in the past month.

“Demand is dropping off now that all the kids have headed back to school,” Weinholzer says. “Our refineries are meeting demand and as a result, we have ample supply. We also have not had a significant hurricane in the Gulf Coast region to upset crude oil supply there either.”

If all continues to go smoothly, she says pump prices may drop another ten to 20 cents by the end of October, with a couple of variables.

“When we start the switch-over from the summer- to the winter-grade fuel, supplies will tighten up just a little bit, so we could see a very short-term bump in prices,” Weinholzer says. “Again, that will be very limited. Secondly, hurricane season isn’t quite over yet in the Atlantic and Gulf Coast regions.”

Nebraska’s current average gas price is two-cents below the national average. Nebraska’s most expensive gas is in Columbus at $3.44 while the cheapest gas is in Omaha and Norfolk at $3.26.