In the latest example of the political pressure levied on federal agencies over growing public dissatisfaction with President Donald Trump’s regulatory agencies, Colorado Governor Jared Polis announced his frustration with the federal government’s failure to allow his state to test a controversial alternative to electronic speed limiters — a speed booster that would spread out the speed limit across a wider number of lanes on the highway.
Instead, Polis is asking the federal government to direct the states to adopt the technology in new highway signs.
Colorado began experimenting with the speed booster a few months ago, but concerns about the impact on drivers and the proper application of the sign prompted regulators at the Federal Highway Administration to tell the Colorado Department of Transportation to stop the program. According to media reports, the Federal Highway Administration told Colorado that the velocity booster was “excessive” and “counterproductive” to highway safety. But now, Polis is asking state officials to be given the go-ahead to test the technology once again.
“When the feds waste hundreds of millions of dollars on projects designed to increase safety instead of increasing infrastructure capacity, they are not held accountable by the electorate,” Polis told media outlets after signing an executive order on Friday. “The citizens of Colorado deserve a seat at the table when decisions are made on how federal dollars are allocated and spent.”
The Denver Post reported last month that federal regulators determined that, under the Highway Safety Improvement Act of 2008, the speed booster technology would be the “inappropriate use of a requirement of the statute.” The intent of the law, officials reasoned, was to increase safety, not increase speed limits, and the different speeds indicated by the signs would encourage drivers to drive slower on the road.
In an August 11 letter to Polis, the chief administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, Phillip Gast, said the agency has “strong concerns about whether the proposed enhancement is reasonable in its application of a Federal requirement regarding indicators designed to provide an indication of the speed limit.”
At a recent National Press Club in Washington, Polis argued that the federal government “concurs with us” on the original purpose of the legislation: to reduce highway crashes.
The chief administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, Phillip Gast, has “strong concerns about whether the proposed enhancement is reasonable in its application of a Federal requirement regarding indicators designed to provide an indication of the speed limit.”
“It is particularly concerning that [Federals Highway Administration] has been content to let states ignore this law,” Polis wrote to Gast. “It is very troubling that FHWA allows state agencies to ignore these important safety standards that they agreed to enforce.”
In his executive order, Polis called for officials at the Colorado Department of Transportation and the Colorado Department of Public Safety to work with state agencies who inspect transportation projects to ensure that no funds are spent on the speed booster.
The Transportation Department has said that it has not spent any money on the technology and that the state will not start another project if it receives a letter from the federal government telling it that the technology is not allowed.
Polis’ office declined to say if the White House had played any role in persuading FHWA to reinterpret the law, or whether the president had pushed the agency to issue the letter.
Like many Trump cabinet officials, federal highway regulators have been criticized for being too cozy with the White House and for failing to take action on mass amounts of old federal regulations. Last week, The Associated Press reported that FHWA awarded $185 million in highway grants to Iowa through its “grant reciprocity” program, which gives states an equal share of funds whenever they transfer federal highway dollars to states that previously did not get them. In Washington, D.C., a similar program allows the federal government to give states the same amount of federal money if they reroute it through local agencies. The AP reported that there were no rules preventing either program from being abused.
“We suspect that these kinds of infusions of cash to those states that have not expanded the scope of the roadways in the past are not being done for the long term financial wellbeing of the states,” said Berenbaum. “They’re given with the thought that this is going to take care of a long-standing pain — that have had dollars tied up in hanging highway projects.”
Read the full story at CNN.
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