March 26, 2015

Missouri engineer wants a rebuilt I-70 to support vehicles with no drivers

An electrical and computer engineer from Raytown wants to rebuild Interstate 70 with so-called “smart pavement” technology to allow for vehicles with no drivers.

Electrical & Computer Engineer Tim Sylvester

Electrical & Computer Engineer Tim Sylvester

President of Integrated Roadways Tim Sylvester, will present his plan to Department of Transportation officials and the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission next week.

“We plan to present a public/private partnership to rebuild I-70 using smart pavement,” said Sylvester.  “Smart pavement provides intelligent transit services as a subscription service in order to support driver-less vehicles and wireless electric vehicle charging.”

Sylvester said smart pavement also has the capability to provide WI-FI to the general public traveling the interstate.  He said there would be no difference in the visual appearance of the road.

“Smart pavement is a pre-cast pavement system that has a variety of sensors in the pavement and communication services to provide location and navigation information to support driver-less vehicles,” said Sylvester.

Sylvester said profits from the subscription-based service would be shared with MoDOT, but drivers are not required to have it in order to drive on the interstate.

“After ten years of implementation of this service, the profits shared with the Department of Transportation would essentially double their budget,” said Sylvester.  “If you don’t subscribe, you’re just using it like a road.”

Sylvester thinks the service would appeal to commercial fleet operators and suggests the commercial trip fee would be two and a half cents per ton, per mile.

“This is primarily geared towards commercial fleet owners who can save about 15 percent on their shipping costs by using this service and double their shipping capacity, but it would also be available to private drivers,” said Sylvester.

Sylvester said smart pavement is more cost-effective than vehicles that can drive themselves made by Google or Mercedes.

“Those cars are hundreds of thousands of dollars and they’re not going to be cheaper for decades,” said Sylvester.  “We can make driver-less a lot cheaper and a lot more accessible by providing it as a subscription using sensors installed in the roadways.”

Sylvester said users would need to install a system into the vehicle similar to a Garmin after-market navigation unit or a GM OnStar kit.  Sylvester estimates the target price to install a driver-less system would be near $1000 to $1500 for passenger vehicles and a little more for commercial vehicles.

“The technology that we’re talking about to upgrade your vehicle is so much simpler than if you’re trying to upgrade your vehicle to be driver-less completely on its own without any sort of outside support,” said Sylvester.

Sylvester is planning to ask MoDOT for their recommendation to go forward with a pilot project to test the technology.  Sylvester said it would be a one mile stretch of road with smart pavement, but it would not be on I-70.

“It would take place somewhere that we’d be able to interrupt traffic and nobody would get upset with us,” said Sylvester.

Sylvester said the biggest obstacle against his smart pavement project will be dealing with political and legislative issues.

“We’ve got to get legislation for driver-less cars and we’ve got to get legislation for public/private partnerships,” said Sylvester.  “The best thing that the average person can do in order to support this is to call their legislator and voice their support and advocate for improving I-70 in a way that prepares us for the future and for all of the exciting technology to come.”

Sylvester said MoDOT estimates it would cost between $2- and $4 billion to rebuild I-70.  Sylvester estimates his smart pavement would cost $3.6 billion, but said MoDOT would only be responsible for 10 percent of the project under his public/private partnership plan.

Missouri auditor says no teeth in attorney general’s conflict of interest policy

A state auditor’s review questions whether the attorney general’s office has eliminated the possibility of conflicts of interest involving entities it is investigating, and whether staff raises have been excessive.

Deputy State Auditor Harry Otto

Deputy State Auditor Harry Otto

After a New York Times article outlined cases of lawyers and lobbyists being investigated by Attorney General Chris Koster’s office donating to his campaign while those investigations were happening, Koster said his campaign will no longer accept contributions from entities with litigation pending against his office or their lobbyists or law firms.

The state auditor said Koster’s policy should be put in writing. Koster’s office said doing so would mean its attorneys would have to know who political contributors are and make decisions based on that knowledge, giving a potential contributor power over whether the office would investigate him or her.

Deputy State Auditor Harry Otto told Missourinet without a policy in writing, there is too much room for the appearance of a conflict of interest.

“The policy that has been adopted, has been adopted by the campaign, as opposed to the office,” Otto said. “The campaign is relying upon the donor to self report conflicts, when in fact the donor should not know, in many cases, that there is a conflict, because the donor shouldn’t know that they are being investigated or that they are a law firm that’s representing a company that’s being investigated.”

He suggests the campaign should go to the attorney general’s office with a list of potential solicitors and the office could tell it which solicitors to avoid, without giving any details on why they should be avoided.

“It probably takes something almost like an IG, an Inspector General, sitting inside the AG’s office to stay in tune with the campaign,” said Otto. “Where are the campaign fundraisers, who’s on the invite list, what money has come in? And if money’s come in and they know by working inside the office, that is an appearance of a conflict, send the money back. Do not take the money or return the money.”

Otto doesn’t disagree with the attorney general’s office’s contention that the attorneys working on investigations shouldn’t know who the campaign donors are, but said some policy needs to be in writing to prevent the appearance of a conflict.

Attorney General Chris Koster

Attorney General Chris Koster

“Play that out,” said Otto. “[Those attorneys] don’t know, they don’t care [where the contributions are coming from], they’re doing a professional job, but at the same time they’re doing an investigation the campaign’s taking a big contribution. That doesn’t pass the smell test. Even thought it may be as innocent as it can be, it just doesn’t pass the test to the man on the street.”

The auditor also criticized the attorney general’s office for granting 279 raises greater than those received by other state employees from 2012 through August 2014, averaging 9-percent per raise.

Koster’s office said it reduced its staff to free up money for those raises so it wouldn’t go over budget, and said the raises allowed it to retain and hire talented attorneys and staff. It criticized the auditor’s view that those raises did not appear reasonable, and reductions in benefits for state employees.

Otto said his office has been consistent in saying state offices should stay within the raises that are included in the budget that is adopted by the legislature and the governor.

“We have the same issue here with retaining [certified public accountants] with the salaries that we can pay, but we soldier on with what we have and try the very best we can to stay under those raises,” said Otto.

Among the audit’s other findings, it said attorney general’s office employees often make lodging reservations without first doing price comparisons. It said in many instances lodging costs appeared excessive, and there was not documentation of why higher costs were necessary and reasonable.

The attorney general’s office said in response that it has stayed within its travel budget each year since Koster took office, and said it works to get the best rates available with the accommodations necessary when attorneys and staff must stay in hotels or motels.

The auditor also recommended the attorney general’s employees be required to periodically change their passwords. The attorney general’s office said it will begin requiring a change every 90 days.

See the report on the state auditor’s website

Weather Service: ‘slight risk’ of severe weather in Missouri

The National Weather Service is warning that there is a slight risk for severe thunderstorms in much of Missouri today.

This weather graphic from the National Weather Service illustrates the areas its Storm Prediction Center says are at a slight risk for severe weather today and tomorrow, and what the primary threats are.

This weather graphic from the National Weather Service illustrates the areas its Storm Prediction Center says are at a slight risk for severe weather today and tomorrow, and what the primary threats are.

The weather service predicts rain and thunderstorms this morning will break up by the afternoon, but another round is expected to develop around 5 or 6 this evening in western Missouri and sweep northeast according to lead forecaster at St. Louis, Jim Sieveking.

“That’s when we could expect the potential for some severe thunderstorms with large hail, some damaging winds, and we can’t rule out maybe an isolated tornado,” Sieveking told Missourinet.

Areas said to be at a slight risk this evening include the Kansas City and St. Louis regions and southwest and south-central Missouri.

The first round of severe storms in a season often catches some people off guard, so Sieveking is reminding Missourians to pay attention.

“This afternoon into this evening just be aware of if there are any watches that are issued, severe thunderstorm or tornado watches that are issued, and then if a warning is issued for your area then take action,” said Sieveking. “Go to the lowest floor of your building. Even if it’s severe thunderstorm, large hail and damaging winds can blow out windows and so forth so I always encourage everybody to just go downstairs until the storm passes.”

Another slight risk of severe weather is predicted for tomorrow but is more limited to southern Missouri.

Sieveking says southern Missouri could also be at risk for flooding tomorrow.

“That front kind of lights up tomorrow and it looks like the thunderstorms might train across southeast Missouri so we could get some heavy rainfall down there. Looks like one to two inches of rain could happen,” said Sieveking. “Those areas saw a lot of snow and a lot of precipitation over the last couple of weeks.”

For National Weather Service information for your area, visit these NWS pages:

In northwest and western Missouri:  Kansas City (Pleasant Hill)

In northeast and eastern Missouri:  St. Louis

In southwest Missouri:  Springfield

In southeast Missouri:  Paducah, KY

Scotland and Clark counties:  Davenport, IA

Missouri legislator proposes official state limit on official state things

Twenty-eight is enough, at least according to one state legislator.

The Missouri State Seal is Missouri's first official symbol, adopted in 1822.  Since then 27 more have been adopted including the official state dinosaur, hypsibema missouriense; the official state song, the Missouri Waltz; and the official state dessert, the ice cream cone.  (Courtesy; Missouri Secretary of State's office)

The Missouri State Seal is Missouri’s first official symbol, adopted in 1822. Since then 27 more have been adopted including the official state dinosaur, hypsibema missouriense; the official state song, the Missouri Waltz; and the official state dessert, the ice cream cone. (Courtesy; Missouri Secretary of State’s office)

Missouri currently has a state animal, a state horse, a state fish and a state aquatic animal, a state bird and a state game bird, and 22 other state symbols. Each year legislation is offered that would create more.  Last year the jumping jack was added as Missouri’s official state exercise.

Representative Tom Flanigan (R-Carthage) thinks that’s enough.

“Twenty-eight ought to surely cover it by now,” Flanigan told Missourinet.

He has offered legislation that would create an official state limit on official state things. The one-line bill would simply set that limit at the current 28.

He thinks the general public sometimes gets the impression that all the legislature does is consider new state symbols.

“They forget the hard work that’s put in on say the budget or the medical malpractice legislation or other things that take up a lot of time for the legislature, because what they really hear about are things like jumping jacks or the ice cream cone or things of that nature, and that’s what they think we do all day,” said Flanigan, “which obviously is not the case and those really only took up small portions of the legislative day.”

Such proposals often originate with students whose teachers want them to learn about how the legislative process works, but many lawmakers have criticized the proposals as a waste of time and suggested there are other ways for students to learn that lesson.

Flanigan suggests the bill could be expanded to say when someone wants to propose adding a new state symbol, they must propose replacing one of those already established.

“How many more symbols would we be able to come up with? Well we could probably come up with many, many more,” said Flanigan, “However you diminish the ones you’ve already decided were state symbols.”

Another avenue, he suggests, would be to start designating symbols at a more local level.

“Let’s start with county symbols. Let’s have the counties be able to designate parks, or certain portions of a county for famous people in those counties, because when you’re setting them with the state you’re looking at a whole wide variety of terrain and people and events and items.”

This year the legislature is again being asked to consider legislation that would designate “Old Drum” as the state historic dog and “Jim the Wonder Dog” as Missouri’s Wonder Dog, as well as bills that would make the white-tailed deer the official state game animal and designate a particular book as the official state work on the 1993 flood.

Flanigan’s proposal is HB 1350.

Missouri State Senator calls for rebellion against BBQ grill study

Some Missouri lawmakers don’t like an Environmental Protection Agency-backed study of emissions from backyard cookouts, and one has launched a social media campaign against it.

Missouri State Senator Eric Schmitt doesn’t like the EPA’s study of grill technology aimed at reducing pollution.  He launched the Twitter hashtag pork steak rebellion, encouraging people to grill outdoors as a sign of protest.

Senator Eric Schmitt

Senator Eric Schmitt

“Across the country there are people using the hashtag expressing their displeasure with the idea that the EPA would find their way into that part of our lives,” said Schmitt.  “There’s a lot of people that are joining our ranks in the pork steak rebellion.”

The EPA is funding a $15,000 University of California-Riverside study to look at the particulate emissions from grilling over an open flame.  The grill uses an air filtration system and drip tray to avoid meat drippings from hitting the grill’s flames and producing pollution.  Schmitt is worried the government might look to regulate backyard grills next.

“On the face of it, it’s a waste of taxpayer money and ultimately this is the time to put a stop to it before it leads to regulations that would regulate backyard barbecues,” said Schmitt.  “The idea that the EPA would have an interest in regulating a backyard barbecue on the fourth of July is ridiculous.”

Schmitt has also filed a resolution meant to discourage the EPA from regulating the use of individual propane gas barbecue grills.  Such resolutions carry no power but are often offered by the state legislature to send a message about its wishes to other government entities.