Bill would define drone misdemeanors

By RAY WILBUR

Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan drone operators are split on how a Senate bill aimed at regulating the use of their unmanned aerial vehicles could impact their work.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Pete MacGregor, R-Rockford, would clarify that commercial and recreational drone flight is subject to federal rules, enforced by the Federal Aviation Administration. It would also authorize the use of state misdemeanor penalties for things like privacy violations and establish a task force to recommend whether other state restrictions are needed.

The legislation is co-sponsored by Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City.

While some drone operators see the bill as clarifying guidelines for hobbyists and other operators, others say it creates unneeded regulation, interrupting the work they do. Continue reading

Michigan car crashes are up; blame the economy

By RAY WILBUR

Capital News Service

LANSING — As the state’s economy grows, so does something else that affects the lives of every resident — the number of traffic crashes. And according to experts, the two are related.

Between 2012 and 2015, Michigan’s total number of crashes increased by about 23,000, according to State Police statistics.

That rise to about 297,000 crashes can be attributed to a number of things, said Carol Flannagan, director of the Center for the Management for Safe and Sustainable Transportation at the University of Michigan.

One of them is a strengthening economy that has younger drivers hit the road more often. And those drivers cause more crashes, she said. Continue reading

Park, shop and nest in new downtown buildings

By BRIDGET BUSH

Capital News Service

LANSING—Medium-sized cities looking for ways to expand parking in cramped downtowns are turning to mixed-use structures that combine retail and housing with parking.

The Holland City Council is considering a proposal from Burton Katzman, an Ann Arbor developer, and Rockford Construction of Grand Rapids, to buy a surface parking lot and replace it with a parking ramp wrapped by apartments. The council agreed to take the proposal under advisement.

The city council hosted an open house recently for 10 to 15 developers, residents and merchants to gauge the public’s reaction, said Joel Dye, the director of community and neighborhood services. Continue reading

Audit says inspectors need to recheck more school buses that fail safety checks

By ALEXANDER SMITH

Capital News Service

LANSING — A recent state audit says state officials should more aggressively re-inspect school buses that fail safety checks.

The number of buses with safety defects rose by 684 to 3,038 in 2016. That’s 19 percent of Michigan’s fleet, according to the 2016 School Bus Inspection Report.

According to a September state audit report of the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division, inspectors rarely reevaluated a bus tagged as defective. In 2016, only 30 percent of tagged buses were reevaluated by inspectors, the audit reported.

The other 70 percent were repaired and self-certified by the owners without a follow-up state inspection. If a repair was subpar, the state would not know. Continue reading

Federal grant aids seniors’ transportation

By ANTHONY HARVEY

Capital News Service

LANSING – Seniors will be one step closer to independence with the help of a $1 million federal grant to assist them in getting to doctors’ appointments.

U.S. Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow, both Democrats, announced that a grant to the Michigan Department of Transportation would allow more access to transportation to and from physician visits, appointments and other tasks. The grant would assist non-emergency transportation services that use buses or vans to accommodate seniors.

MDOT sponsored a grant application from the Michigan Transportation Connection, a statewide nonprofit, under a federal program called Rides to Wellness Demonstration and Innovative Coordinated Access and Mobility.

“We were the supporters of the grant for the Michigan Transportation Connection. But the Michigan Transportation Connection will implement the structure of the Rides to Wellness programs,” said Tim Fischer, director of communications for MDOT Continue reading

Michigan traffic deaths rise, bucking decade trend

By JASON KRAFT

Capital News Service

LANSING – The number of traffic deaths in Michigan rose nearly 10 percent in 2015 following a 7.9 percent decrease the previous year.

The 972 deaths reported so far is up 9.7 percent from the previous year, according to the Traffic Improvement Association of Michigan, a coalition of groups that analyze accident data. It is just the fourth time Michigan has seen an increase in annual traffic fatalities in the past 11 years.

“They’ve been trending down over the last decade,” said Anne Readette, communications manager of the State Police’s Office of Highway Safety Planning. In 2004 there were 1,159 reported Michigan traffic deaths.
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Road agencies see savings if winter proves mild

By MICHAEL KRANSZ
Capital News Service

LANSING — With predictions of a mild winter ahead, some county road commissions anticipate that savings on fuel and road salt will funnel into spring road projects such as pothole repair.

According to National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration predictions for December through February, Michigan’s winter has a greater than 50 percent chance of above-average temperatures and a 40 percent chance to be less snowy than average.

In the meantime, a delayed start to colder temperatures and snowfall is giving the commissions a chance to “catch their breath” from the workloads of past winters and catch up on road maintenance, said Dirk Heckman, the manager and engineer at the Mackinac County Road Commission.
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Wildlife researchers unsure about drones

By MARIE ORTTENBURGER
Capital News Service

LANSING — Perhaps drones could track feral swine to help oust the invasive critter from Michigan.

But local researchers hesitate to employ the technology for wildlife management.

“There’s a lot of potential for uneasiness,” said Stephen Beyer, who manages wildlife research for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

He cited public fears of surveillance and intrusion on privacy.

“We’re a state agency,” Beyer said. “There’s natural suspicion there.”
Brian Haroldson, a wildlife research biologist at the Minnesota DNR who used helicopters to count deer, also expressed concern
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New maps show possible routes for nuclear waste transport

By COURTNEY BOURGOIN
Capital News Service

LANSING — Anti-nuclear groups are identifying the types of transportation needed to haul nuclear waste across the Great Lakes region if a national waste storage site in Nevada wins federal approval.

They are adding state-specific details to U.S. Department of Energy maps to show where barges could move waste across Lake Michigan and where trucks and trains could move it across the region.

Beyond Nuclear and Nuclear Information and Resource Service said they wanted to localize a national policy by highlighting truck, rail and water routes necessary to move nuclear waste under a proposed storage policy.

detroitriverfront

Possible trucking and train routes for nuclear waste in Great Lakes region. Credit: Nuclear Information and Resource Service/ Beyond Nuclear.

For the Great Lakes region, the two anti-nuclear organizations noted multiple places that railways can’t reach and where nuclear waste would instead have to travel across Lake Michigan.
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More schools move to private bus services

By MICHAEL KRANSZ
Capital News Service

LANSING — The number of Michigan school districts contracting out at least a part of their transportation services increased 150 percent from 2010 to 2014, according to a think tank survey.

The survey by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland recorded 78 school districts opting for some privatized transportation services during that time, in addition to 53 already contracting out.

There are about 540 districts in the state, according to the Department of Education. And while some districts are contracting out only a portion of the service, such as employment, most are privatizing their whole bus operation, said James Hohman, assistant director of fiscal policy at the center.
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