October 08, 2013

Illinois Prepares For Immigrant Drivers Licenses

Undocumented immigrants in Illinois will soon be able to obtain a driver’s license, and one of the roughly two-dozen places where they will be able to do that in the state is in Champaign.

The Illinois Secretary of State’s office has identified 25 locations where people can apply for these ID’s. Spokesman Henry Haupt said anyone applying must first make an appointment, and then take a driver's tests, prove Illinois residency and have a picture taken to go into a state database.

“Provided all of the information was verified, including one year of residency in the state of Illinois, then at that point in time a temporary driver’s license would be issued to the individual at the address they supplied,” Haupt said.

These temporary driver’s licenses will be a different color than other licenses, and Haupt said people who obtain them will also be responsible for maintaining their auto insurance.

He said applications will be accepted at Champaign’s DMV facility at the end of December or early January. Other offices accepting these applications include those in Peoria, Bloomington, and the Chicago area.

To prepare for the rollout, the Secretary of State’s office is holding a series of workshops often in Spanish to explain details of the temporary ID.


high speed rail
(Jeff Roberson/AP)
August 30, 2013

$14 Million Awarded For Springfield Rail Underpass

The federal government has awarded a $14.4 million grant for a railroad underpass in Springfield that will improve service along the emerging 110-mph Amtrak route between Chicago and St. Louis.

Four members of Congress from Illinois announced the award Friday.

The Carpenter Street underpass is part of work to consolidate rail traffic on a line east of downtown.

It will eliminate three street-level crossings, improving the safety of faster rail service through the state capital. It will also keep first responders from getting stuck at crossings.

In requesting the funds, the lawmakers said it was also a step toward possible construction of a dedicated passenger line, separate from the track now shared with freight trains. That would permit speeds of over 110 mph on Illinois' high-speed corridor.


July 29, 2013

2 Teens Still Hospitalized From Indy Bus Crash

The number of teens still hospitalized from an Indianapolis bus crash that killed three people is down to two and both are in good condition.

An Indiana University Health spokeswoman said Monday afternoon that Methodist Hospital and Riley Hospital for Children are each treating one patient. She says the hospitals on Monday released four other teens they had been treating.

They were among 37 people from Colonial Hills Baptist Church of Indianapolis whose bus overturned at an Interstate 465 exit ramp while returning from a Michigan camp.

The crash killed the church's youth pastor, his pregnant wife and a camper's mother.


July 25, 2013

One American Among The Dead in Spain Train Derailment

The U.S. State Department says one American is among the 80 people killed in yesterday's train derailment in Spain, and that five other Americans were hurt.

Meanwhile, Spain's government says two investigations have been launched into the cause of the crash near the Christian festival city of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. The regional government confirms that the train driver, who's hospitalized, is being questioned as a possible suspect, but that investigators are also looking at possible trouble with safety equipment.

According to eyewitness accounts and video of the crash, speed may have been a factor. The train was going so fast, its cars tumbled off the tracks like dominos. One witness says he saw the train ``coming out of the bend at great speed and then there was a big noise.''

An analysis of the video by The Associated Press indicates that the train was traveling at least 89 miles an hour, and possibly over 100 miles an hour. The speed limit in the area is 50 miles an hour.


plane crash
(Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
July 07, 2013

Asiana Flight Tried To Abort Landing Seconds Before Crash

Asiana Airlines Flight 214 tried to abort its landing and come in for another try just 1 1/2 seconds before it crashed Saturday at San Francisco airport, killing two people and injuring dozens of others.

That was the information gleaned from the jetliner's cockpit voice recorder, the head of the National Transportation Safety Board said at a Sunday news conference. NTSB chief Deborah Hersman also said about 7 seconds prior to impact, there was a call to increase speed.

She said the flight data recorder captured the entire flight.

"We have a long way to go in this investigation," Hersman said.

NPR's Laura Sydell talked to weekends on All Things Considered about the news conference:

"Well, I should say, although its sounds like it could be pilot error, there's a lot we don't know. For example, there are systems on the ground that assist pilots in landing and we know that at least one of them wasn't working. It's called the Instrument Landing System, or ILS. It hasn't been functioning since June because of construction at the airport. What this system does is basically warn a pilot if they are coming in to low. But, literally thousands of flights have landed in San Francisco without using it, and it was a clear day, no reports of weather problems, and pilots are trained to use their eyes when they land a plane.

"It also could have been a mechnical problem with the plane itself. But keep in mind this is the first time that anyone would have been killed in a crash of a Boeing 777 — it has a great safety record. The CEO of Asiana said he did not believe there was a mechanical problem. And as for pilot error, it's a more than 10-hour flight, that's exhausting, but, the pilot was a seasoned veteran with a lot of support he had a co-pilot and two other back up pilots, which is standard for a flight of this length."

But as one pilot told the show, shorter routes can sometimes be more tiring than longer, international flights.

Our original post:

An investigation has begun into Saturday's crash-landing of a South Korean airliner at San Francisco's airport, which left two passengers dead and dozens more injured. Two teenage girls from China were killed, the airline says.

The Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 had begun its trip in Shanghai, adding more passengers in South Korea, reports China's Xinhua news agency, which says 141 Chinese citizens were on the flight to San Francisco International Airport.

As it came in for landing before noon Saturday, the plane's tail section snapped off after it struck the ground short of the runway, according to multiple witness accounts. The jetliner then twisted and slid down the tarmac. After the plane's inflatable emergency escape ramps deployed, many passengers slid to safety.

As it sat on the runway, the aircraft sent billows of smoke into the sky. Images taken later showed a large portion of the 777's roof had burned away.

"Based on numbers provided by the San Francisco Fire Dept. and regional hospital officials, two people died and 182 others were taken to hospitals," the local CBS News affiliate reports, "including 49 who were seriously injured, ten of them critically including two small children."

Asiana and government officials have identified students Ye Mengyuan and Wang Linjia as the two girls killed Saturday. They were part of a large group of students and teachers who were heading to the United States for a summer camp, reports the South China Morning Post.

All 307 people aboard the plane have now been accounted for, officials say, and investigators began their work on the scene before midnight. The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration each say that they're sending investigators to San Francisco.

The incident triggered delays and rerouting of dozens of other flights, as jets were sent to airports in Oakland, Los Angeles, and elsewhere to absorb the flow of travelers. As of early Sunday, two runways at the airport remain closed, reports the local ABC 7 News.

One person who saw the plane from the ground was Stephanie Turner, a visitor to California who was taking a photo of the runway when she saw the Asiana 777 descending.

"And then I noticed that the tail was very, very low. The angle was bad. And so as it came in, the tail of the plane struck first," she told NPR Saturday.

Among the passengers was Samsung executive David Eun, who tweeted "I just crash landed at SFO. Tail ripped off. Most everyone seems fine. I'm ok. Surreal..." Eun also posted a photo of the jet.

We'll be following developments today, and updating this post as they come in.

With all those aboard accounted for, transportation officials are now turning their focus to finding the cause of the disastrous landing, the first time a Boeing 777 has been involved in a crash with fatalities in its 18 years of service, ABC reports.

The chief executive of Asiana Airlines says that the flight's pilots were well-trained and had thousands of hours of experience. He also said there were no issues with the plane.

"For now, we acknowledge that there were no problems caused by the 777-200 plane or (its) engines," airline president and CEO Yoon Young-doo said at a news conference Sunday, Reuters reports.

The news agency also reports that parts of the San Francisco airport's landing systems, designed to help pilots make perfect descents onto runways, had been turned off on the runway that was the scene of Saturday's crash-landing.

The system is seen as an aid to pilots, rather than an essential guide — particularly during clear conditions such as those reported Saturday.

Saturday, officials from the FBI said that they saw no signs that the crash-landing was related to terrorism.


driver's licenses for immigrants
(Russell Contreras/AP)
June 24, 2013

More States Let Unauthorized Immigrants Take The Wheel

The national debate over immigration may be churning on in Washington, D.C., but there's one policy a growing number of states can agree on: driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants.

Vermont, Connecticut and Colorado passed new laws this month allowing drivers without Social Security numbers to receive licenses or authorization cards. They join Nevada, Maryland and Oregon, whose governors signed similar laws in May. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn started the trend this year when he signed Senate Bill 957 in January.

The recent wave of state laws reflect an about-face in policy after 9/11, when states tended to enact more restrictive licensing requirements.

In recent years, undocumented immigrants have been able to receive driver's licenses in Washington state and New Mexico; and in Utah, drivers who cannot "establish legal/lawful presence" can apply for driving privilege cards, according to the Utah Driver License Division's website.

The types of licenses that undocumented immigrants can receive vary by state. Nevada's law follows Utah's model by only allowing driver's privilege cards. Such limitations prevent undocumented immigrants from using the cards as valid government-issued identification.

These new state laws show that the public safety argument often cited by immigrant advocates is "starting to carry weight," says Ann Morse, who directs the National Conference of State Legislatures' Immigrant Policy Project.

As The Economist recently reported:

...unlicensed drivers are almost five times more likely to be in a fatal crash. They are also less likely to stay at accident scenes, according to Yale Law School's Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization. The costs of accidents involving the uninsured are passed on to other motorists in the form of higher insurance premiums.

Not all states, however, have found public safety concerns compelling enough to grant licenses to drivers who are undocumented immigrants.

As NPR reported, some states question whether undocumented immigrants who have received deferred action qualify for driver's licenses. Young immigrants with deferred action have entered the U.S. illegally as children and are granted the right to work or study and avoid deportation for two years through a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott recently vetoed a strongly supported bill that would have allowed young immigrants with deferred action to apply for temporary driver's licenses. Nebraska and Arizona also deny licenses to immigrants with deferred action.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has repeatedly called for her state to stop issuing licenses to undocumented immigrants. The state, which has issued unrestricted driver's licenses since 2003, has seen a number of identity fraud cases, The Wall Street Journal reported.

California, Texas and Minnesota are among other states this year that have introduced bills on licensing for undocumented immigrant drivers. Whether or not undocumented immigrants should be able to apply for driver's licenses will be up for debate at least until Congress passes an immigration overhaul proposal.


A collapsed portion of the Interstate 5 bridge in Washington state
(Elaine Thompson/AP)
June 01, 2013

Many Bridges Unsafe, But No Consensus on Solutions

As you head out on the roads for summer vacation, ponder this: chances are 1 in 9 the bridge you're crossing has been deemed structurally deficient or basically in bad shape by the federal government.

The collapse of the I-5 bridge in Washington on May 23 has once again raised questions about the state of the nation's infrastructure. But there is no consensus on how to tackle the problem or how to pay for proposed solutions.

The I-5 bridge was not one of the nearly 67,000 bridges across the nation deemed structurally deficient. It was, however, on a somewhat larger list of bridges determined to be functionally obsolete, meaning it was designed to meet old engineering standards. Its traffic lanes were narrower than current requirements and its overhead clearance lower.

Barry LePatner, a New York real estate and construction lawyer, says the bridge was also "fracture critical," or designed with no backup supports in case of a structural failure.

"There was no redundancy," LePatner says. "If one piece breaks on the entire bridge, the bridge goes straight down because there is no other structural support ... to hold the bridge up."

In that way, LePatner says the Washington bridge is like the bridge on I-35 in Minneapolis that collapsed in 2007, killing 13 and injuring more than 100.
LePatner is author of Too Big to Fall, about the nation's failing infrastructure. What happened in Washington and Minneapolis, he says, is a harbinger of what might happen to thousands of other bridges in the nation.

"When you combine those poor bridges that must have traffic limited on them because they can't support the weight as originally designed ... with a fracture critical design ... we have a very toxic combination that imperils the traveling public," he says.

LePatner says for decades the nation has starved its roads and bridges. The federal gas tax, which provides the bulk of the funding for the Highway Trust Fund, hasn't been raised in two decades. And the trust fund, which pays the federal share of road and bridge construction, is expected to go broke next year.

President Obama has called for spending $50 billion to pay for bridge and road construction, as well as setting up a national infrastructure bank — an idea that's gained little traction so far in Congress. Democratic Rep. Janice Hahn of California says infrastructure spending provides a good return on investment.

"We know that this will create jobs [and] we know it will put people to work," Hahn says. "It will improve the efficiency of our nation's transportation system and it's going to be worth the investment."

Hahn has called for hearings on the Washington bridge collapse as a way to raise awareness of the infrastructure problem.

While Congress has been gridlocked, states have been trying their own solutions to funding bridge and road repairs. Some have raised their own gas taxes; others like Massachusetts and Colorado have authorized increased borrowing. Charlie Chieppo of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government says this is a good time for bridge building or rebuilding.

"Borrowing costs are low, and although this is starting to change now, construction prices are relatively low and construction inflation is relatively low," Chieppo says. "The sense is that is going to change or is already starting to change, so I think the window is closing."

Spending by all levels of government on bridges totaled more than $28 billion last year, according to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association. Still, the Federal Highway Administration estimates it will take and additional $20 billion a year over the next 16 years to bring all the nation's bridges up to standard.

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May 31, 2013

New Will County Airport Advances in Illinois House

After decades of debate over adding a third airport to the Chicago area, the Illinois House of Representatives has passed a measure that will allow for the construction and operation of a new airport to be located in Will County.

The legislation approved Thursday allows the Illinois Department of Transportation to enter into a public-private partnership to develop the South Suburban Airport in Peotone.

Gov. Pat Quinn calls the House vote a breakthrough. He says after years of pushing, the state is moving forward with developing a "huge economic engine" that will create jobs.

But some representatives criticized the way the bill was put together, lumping several projects around the state into one bill that was introduced hours before it was passed with 81 votes.

“I’m concerned on the scope of this bill,” Democratic State Rep. Jack Franks said Thursday. “I think there’s a lot of good things in here, but I also think there are things that would not and could not and should not pass on their own. And that’s why they’ve been put in this bill, to try to cover that up.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has criticized the idea of a third airport, and some lawmakers questioned how much use the airport would get and how much notice property owners would get before their land is used for the airport.

The measure also authorizes financing for a new 10,000-seat basketball arena for DePaul University near Chicago's McCormick Place. The facility also would be used as a hall for conventions and trade shows.

The bill now moves to the Senate.


May 30, 2013

I-57 Closure at C-U Postponed

The scheduled Thursday night closure of a stretch of I-57 in southwest Champaign has been postponed.

The closure was to be the last of three nightly closures scheduled this week, to allow work on a new Windsor Road Bridge.
But the Illinois Department of Transportation is postponing Thursday night's closure due to inclement weather. No further closures of I-57 are scheduled until the week of July 15th. IDOT says it will send out a notification two weeks before the next closure.


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