Cows get loose on the Interstate, cars crash, man dies, girl goes to hospital—it happens:
[Robert] DeBoer says his cattle followed the road around a bend, and then they were in the ditch that lines the interstate. After getting out of their pen here, the cattle didn’t have to cross any fencing. DeBoer says the whole situation makes him feel “terrible.”
“I don’t know what the answer is. Everybody has livestock,” DeBoer said. “They get cattle that get out, whether it’s in somebody’s corn field or bean field, or whatever. They get on the road, and it happens.”
He says he’s had cattle for 45 years. It’s been three years, he says, since one got out.
The South Dakota Department of Transportation says they have received an additional $25.7 million in federal highway funding after the state met all of its fiscal year deadlines for federally-funded projects.
This is the highest amount the department has received and is above and beyond the funds the department is allotted through the federal aid program.
“The SDDOT has once again received additional money for its responsible use of federal funding by fully obligating our $259.8 million in spending authority by letting projects prior to federal deadlines,” says Secretary of Transportation Darin Bergquist.
When states or other federal entities which are funded through the federal highway trust fund do not fully utilize their federal funds in a given year, the Federal Highway Administration makes those funds available to other states that have successfully obligated their allotment of federal dollars. This year, the federal pool totaled $3.14 billion.
“The department has a proven track record of being eligible for redistribution of funds and maximizing its federal funding,” says Bergquist. “On average, the department sees about an additional $12 million per year by ensuring our federal transportation program is delivered and this money will greatly enhance our overall funding used to build and preserve our states highways and bridges” [South Dakota Department of Transportation, press release, 2017.09.21].
Miller says oil won’t disappear—we’ll still need asphalt, heating oil, and plastics—but drilling and refining built on automotive consumption will collapse as the internal combustion engine follows film cameras, Nokia phones, and coal-burning power plants toward marginality or extinction.
Miller bases this prediction first on the superior simplicity of the electric vehicle drivetrain:
Cars are complicated.
Behind the hum of a running engine lies a carefully balanced dance between sheathed steel pistons, intermeshed gears, and spinning rods — a choreography that lasts for millions of revolutions. But millions is not enough, and as we all have experienced, these parts eventually wear, and fail. Oil caps leak. Belts fray. Transmissions seize.
And this list raises an interesting observation: None of these failures exist in an electric vehicle.
The point has been most often driven home by Tony Seba, a Stanford professor and guru of “disruption”, who revels in pointing out that an internal combustion engine drivetrain contains about 2,000 parts, while an electric vehicle drivetrain contains about 20. All other things being equal, a system with fewer moving parts will be more reliable than a system with more moving parts [Seth Miller, “This Is How Big Oil Will Die,” NewCo Shift, 2017.05.25].
That durability boosts the business case for fleets of autonomous taxis replacing individually owned vehicles, at which point it becomes cheaper for darn near everyone to take a taxi than maintain a personal vehicle.
Of course, there are limitations. Low population densities and long median travel distances mean ridesharing and carsharing are unlikely to ever take hold as they have in urban areas, meaning personal vehicle ownership (and lower asset utilization) are likely to persist. And the vision of some pioneering companies of a vehicle that can only operate in fully autonomous mode—with no steering wheel or pedals, for instance—could meet resistance from country dwellers who often use their vehicles as a tool as much as a conveyance. For those who, say, use their pickup truck to haul firewood from one part of a property to another, as I have in recent months, the ability to revert to human-controlled operation is likely to be essential [Derek Pankratz, “Rethinking Self-Driving Cars in Rural Areas,” Deloitte: Innovation in Manufacturing, 2017.05.23].
My Volkswagen Beetle has a good ten years left on it. I’ll be curious to see if I need to buy a replacement for it in 2027, or if I’ll find it cheaper to catch a robot lift to Sioux Falls or Rapid City.
Republican Senator John Thune is calling for more government regulation to keep us safe in our future self-driving cars. I would think a good Republican would prefer a strong EMP over regulation as a response to robot danger, but I’m learning I shouldn’t overthink John Thune.
Thune and his Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee heard Wednesday that properly regulated artificial intelligence at the wheel may “cure” drunk driving and “offer massive economic benefits—less congestion, fewer injuries and medical claims, lower fuel costs, increased personal productivity, and better land use.”
While we move across the field, a GPS system guides the sprayer. Biesemeier barely touches the steering wheel.
“It won’t be very long before these things are driving themselves and we’re not even out here,” he says.
Purchased over the past several years, these machines allow Biesemeier and his brother to farm nearly 7,000 acres in this rural pocket of northeastern Colorado, near the Nebraska border. Just a few decades ago, it would have been nearly impossible for a single family to adequately manage that much cropland. Now, Biesemeier says, his is a medium-sized farm in this part of the plains.
“It takes a lot of acres to pay that combine off, or that corn planter off, or that sprayer off,” he says.
That means farms on the Great Plains and in many other parts of the country have had to grow in size and adopt new technologies to make ends meet. He can’t just farm 80 acres and make a living, he says.
When there are fewer farmers, there are fewer families who need to come to each little town for parts, groceries, and school. Driverless technology may be one more advance that hurries migration from our old farm towns to Sioux Falls, Aberdeen, and our few other towns big enough to sustain themselves with goods and services beyond support for farm workers that we no longer need.
But here’s something to chew on: could self-driving vehicles create a counterbalancing migration force that could replenish small towns? If machines can chauffeur us everywhere, will more families choose the peace and quiet of small-town life and enjoy more work and family time on their long automated drive to Sam’s Club and Hy-Vee? Or might those drives disappear completely, as small-town residents get their weekly provisions by Hy-Vee drone?
Privatization would hand over decisions about infrastructure funding, taxes and fees, consumer complaints, noise, and many other priorities, to a board of private interests dominated by the commercial airlines. These are the same airlines that have cut back flights to smaller communities by more than 20 percent in recent years, and have stated their intent to divert investment from small and mid-sized communities to large ones where the airlines are most profitable.
We are also concerned about costs and access. For example, the Canadian, privatized system, which is often held up as the system the U.S. should emulate, is more expensive than the system we have in the US by miles flown. In the U.K., that system has seen “more delays, higher fares and reduced connectivity” at London’s airports since privatization. So while we all agree that modernizing our air traffic control system and investing in American infrastructure should be among our highest priorities, privatization is not the answer [Mayors Mandell, Goings, et al., letter to Senator John Thune and Senator Bill Nelson, 2017.03.06].
Regardless of what Mayor Huether runs for next year, he appears to be on the right track on air traffic control. It ain’t broke—nobody has bumped into anybody in Sioux Falls airspace—and privatization won’t fix it.
Drop that blade: Senate Bill 58 would increase the miles of state highway where it’s the Department of Transportation’s job to remove snow.
Current law (SDCL 31-4-5) lays out the obligations for maintaining portions of state highways that run through towns thus:
If any state trunk highway includes a connecting street within a municipality over twenty-five hundred population, the Department of Transportation shall maintain the street. However, the snow removal from the street is the duty of the first or second class municipality within whose boundaries the street lies.
SB 58 rewords those obligations:
If any state trunk highway includes a street within a municipality, the Department of Transportation shall maintain the street. However, any municipality with a population of over two thousand five hundred is responsible for the snow and ice removal from the street. If the street is located within a municipality with a population of two thousand five hundred or less, the department is responsible for the snow and ice removal from the street including any paved portion of the street’s right of way.
Right now, snow is all I think about on the road, so I look first at the plowing provision. Current law says towns with population over 500 (that’s 115 towns out of 310, by 2010 Census, from Bowdle and Dupree on up, but not Presho and Wilmot and smaller!) plow the snow. SB 58 moves the “locals plow it” threshold up to population over 2,500—that’s 88 more towns, up to Redfield, Flandreau, Chamberlain, and Sisseton, that get the guarantee that the state handles plowing on their strips of state highway.
Prime sponsor Senator Ryan Maher (R-28/Isabel, population 135) tells Dakota Free Press that the state has varying agreements with smaller towns on snow plowing. Senator Maher says SB 58 brings uniformity to road maintenance responsibilities.
SB 58 also expands the DOT’s general maintenance responsibilities for state highways from those strips in towns over 2,500 to all municipalities. That includes the 88 second-class munis in the snow deal and the 195 third-class munis.
The Sioux Falls Regional Airport will welcome its one millionth passenger of 2016 during a surprise celebration next week. Members of the media are invited to attend the ceremony at the terminal on the morning of Thursday, December 22. A more precise time will be released in a follow-up advisory next week when the plane carrying the one millionth passenger is determined.
“2016 marks the first year that one million people have travelled through our airport,” Executive Director Dan Letellier said. “Along with the recent changes and terminal updates at the airport, this is a big milestone for FSD.”
FSD’s one million passengers in 2016 include arrivals, departures, and enplanements. The airport saw 980,000 travelers in 2015 and sees an average of 1,750 daily seats and 150 weekly flights [Sioux Falls Regional Airport, press release, 2016.12.16].
No word yet on whether cake will be served.
According to FAA stats, Sioux Falls Regional Airport ranked 120th for emplanements in 2015 with 493,530 (I welcome aviation experts to explain the difference between emplanements, arrivals, and departures so we can make sense of FSD’s million claim). Let’s put that busy-ness in the context of other airports in the region:
The Department of Public Safety has released its 2015 Crash Report. In his cover letter, Governor Daugaard chooses to highlight two statistically insignificant pieces of data:
In each Crash Report, there are positive outcomes to share and evidence of challenges that South Dakotans face when it comes to motor vehicle safety.
The overall numbers of drivers in alcohol-involved fatal crashes is up slightly from last year’s report. In 2015, South Dakota had 41 intoxicated drivers who were involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes, compared to 40 in 2014.
However, the good news is the number of drivers and passengers who died while not wearing seatbelts in 2015 is down seven percent from 2014. While that number is still too high, we are happy to see a reverse in the trend [Governor Dennis Daugaard, 2015 Crash Report, Department of Public Safety, November 2016].
I say statistically insignificant because a change from 41 to 40 out of over 17,000 crashes doesn’t tell us much. The non-seatbelted fatalities figures are even smaller, down from 30 to 28. Neither decline represents a real reversal or a trend; both are statistical noise, possibly explained by one vehicle.
If we want numbers that can inform policy, we need to look at bigger numbers that can’t be explained by one motorist misfortune:
economic loss ($M)
We killed fewer people on our highways last year, but we still had more costly wrecks. Injuries jumped 8.5%; alcohol-related injuries jumped 23.7%. Direct property damage rose 5.1%; economic losses 11.7%. All of those unpleasant increases exceed the 2.6% increase in reported crashes, indicating that, for some reason, we got more buck from each bang.
That snapshot suggests some strange danger cropping up in last year’s driving. (Anyone care to speculate on the impact of raising our Interstate speed limit from 75 to 80? Ah, but the Crash Report says that while Interstates represent a larger percentage of fatal crashes than they do of total crashes, they make up a smaller percentage of injury crashes.)
Comparing 2015 to 1986, we have 64% more registered vehicles traveling 49% more miles (over 93 million miles, the distance to the sun!) but only 30% more crashes, about the same number of fatal crashes, and fewer injuries.
And over just the last decade, alcohol-related fatalities and injuries have declined 15%, while DUI arrests have declined 18% and DUI convictions have dropped 27%. Whatever we’re doing—more checkpoints, more counseling, sobering up culturally—appears to be deterring drunk driving.
What will happen in 2017? The problem of DUI has only gotten worse since the July 2013 DUI killing of our daughter. We call upon the Governor and Legislature to think about the victims and change DUI laws and practices. Make Vehicular Homicide “a crime of violence”. Implement all the 2013 NTSB recommendations. Mandate 24/7 or ignition interlocks for all DUI convicts. Suspend licenses and impound vehicles upon arrest. Fund local governments that bear the brunt of DUI costs. Stop suspended imposition, allowing offenders to escape any consequences. Stop pandering to defense lawyers. Politicians should heed Psalm 37:27 “Turn from evil and do good; then you will dwell in the land forever.” If politicians choose to fail DUI victims again, perhaps an Initiated Measure can change things [Gregg Spindler, letter to the editor, received 2016.11.29].
I’d suggest the initiative threat may take the pressure off the Legislature to do anything. I’d also suggest that the success this year of Amendment S, the crime victims bill of rights, shows that a DUI reform would pass easily: run just one ad, with Gregg Spindler holding a photo of his daughter, and voters will mark Yes overwhelmingly.
You can fly from Watertown to Denver on a government subsidy (for a little while longer, at least), or, come December, you can really get away from it all and catch a flight from Sioux Falls to Phoenix on your own dime. According to a press release this week from the Sioux Falls Airport, American Airlines will have its partner Mesa fly a 76-seat CRJ900 (built by Canadian planemaker Bombardier) once a day from Sioux Falls to Phoenix. This snowbird service will be available December 15 through June 2. These Mesa flights will leave Sioux Falls at 5:55 p.m. and arrive at Phoenix at 8:05 p.m. Return flights leave Phoenix at 1:25 p.m. and land in Sioux Falls at 5:05 p.m.
I check Expedia this morning and find American Airlines will take us to Phoenix over the weekend before Christmas for $459.70. The best rate for a Sioux Falls–Denver flight that weekend is on Frontier at $405.20. Expedia shows no Watertown–Denver flights that weekend, but the average fare in Aerodynamics Inc’s original proposal was $83.16 out of each passenger’s pocket and $253.38 in aeronautical welfare payments (should we call it Air Stamps?).
According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Sioux Falls has the 120th busiest U.S. airport out of 826 airports. Over the twelve months ending May 2016, Sioux Falls Airport had an average of 25 flights a day carrying 1,340 people out of town (and similar numbers back). Those flights also carried over 232,000 pounds of freight and mail daily. Phoenix was the fifth-most popular destination, behind Dallas, Chicago, Denver, and numero uno Minneapolis. Over the twelve months ending May 2015 (comparing to the most recent year is unfair, since Watertown booted unreliable Great Lakes Airlines at the end of June 2015), Watertown Regional saw an average of four passengers in an out each day, all on Minneapolis flights.
Keep your darned hands off my Essential Air Service!
So may shout some over-entitled Republicans who’ve been celebrating the chance to force us taxpayers to foot most of the bill for their larkish flights from Watertown to Denver. Barely two weeks after Aerodynamics Inc. opened its Watertown–Pierre–Denver air route courtesy of a new $6.8-million/year Essential Air Service subsidy, the Department of Transportation has ruled that Watertown is too close to the Minneapolis air hub to qualify for more than $200 in government assistance per passenger. Given that the subsidy just to get a the plane from Watertown to Pierre is $253 per passenger, the Department of Transportation’s ruling means Aerodynamics Inc. will need to up ticket prices or end its Watertown service.
Only towns farther than 210 miles from the nearest large or medium hub airport can qualify for more than $200 per passenger from EAS. USDOT says Watertown is 207 miles from MSP. Mayor Steve Thorson contends that, including Lake Kampeska, Watertown’s center is actually four miles further west, meaning the total trip is really 211 miles.
Try to imagine the center of gravity of that grey shape, the point where you could balance that pancake-gone-awry on a pencil tip. With Lake Kampeska weighing us down in the west, I’d try maybe just south of the zoo, on Highway 20. I noodle around with Google Earth and find the centroid may be a little further west, between the fire department and the north-south runway at the airport.
The majority of land west of the river and Highway 20 is airport, agricultural, commercial, and industrial. The housing developments ringing Kampeska, southeast and southwest of the airport, and south of 212 appear to hold notably less population than the solid green and red residential zoning areas that dominate Watertown east of the tracks and north of 212. By population, the center of town might be closer to the courthouse.
That’s about where Google Maps starts plotting the trip from Watertown to the Minneapolis airport. Google Maps says the trip is 208 miles if you drive all the way on U.S. Highway 212. Keep due east out of Montevideo on Minnesota Highway 7, and the trip is only 203 miles. From the airport fire station, the drive is only 205 miles. Only some houses on the west side of Kampeska can claim a door-to-terminal distance of 211 miles. And USDOT, which apparently measures from “center of the EAS community” to the hub airport entrance, is not likely to accept a measurement from the farthest edge of town.