The National Association of Counties (NACo) met for their Annual Conference July 12th thru the 15th to discuss platform and policy issues important to counties.

NACo is encouraging our divided government to unite and develop and pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill to address key priorities that include a fix to reoccurring shortages in the Highway Trust fund, an effort to create efficiencies such as accelerating the federal permitting process, while continuing to provide environmental protections, and to deliver a well-functioning national infrastructure network driven by a long-term vision and funding stability.

This year’s Transportation Committee approved all of last year’s resolutions and added several platform changes, including opposition to any increases in truck sizes or weight until a full impact analysis can be completed of how those increases may affect the nation’s transportation system and what costs may be added to state and local governments.

NACo also supports the effort to lift the cap on passenger facility fees by agencies that control commercial airports in order to provide more local control over investment decisions, relieve burdens on federal taxpayers, and increase airline competition.

Policy resolutions include removing air ambulances from the definition of air carriers in the airline deregulation act and insure other federal laws do not prevent states from regulating air ambulance rates to protect consumers from price gouging. NACo encourages congress to cause a thorough and complete study of air ambulance operations.

NACo is also urging congress to amend the  electronic logging device (ELD) hours of service rules for agriculture drivers to take into account delays drivers will encounter in the process of loading, unloading, and transporting livestock which could result in inhumane animal treatment, devalued livestock pricing, and economic hardship to counties across the United States.

The transportation committee also supported a resolution to amend federal law regarding the Federal Highway Administration emergency relief funds. Current policy does not allow counties enough time to repair roads damaged in federally declared disaster areas.

Maybe the highlight of this trip was an opportunity to tour the Regional Transportation Commission’s state of the art traffic management center and take a ride in a connected vehicle. The regional office in Las Vegas was indeed something to see. The committee walked into a facility full of live video screen displays of high traffic intersections, interstate highway corridors, and problem areas identified for further evaluations.

Our tour guide then shared how connected traffic systems work. Miles of fiber and cameras are connected in the regional office allowing state, city, and highway patrol officers and staff to constantly evaluate and manage traffic flows and respond to accidents viewed on the screen before they are even called in.

Some benefits to customers in a connected city with a vehicle equipped with the connected software is the ability to see traffic signals ahead on your route and watch as they go from red to green, complete with a second by second countdown as the traffic light changes. Vehicles equipped with the software can inform the driver of congested routes and changes to bypass the congested areas.

Autonomous vehicles are also operating along the strip, and driverless cars are picking up passengers and transporting them around Las Vegas. I regret I did not have the opportunity to take a ride in a driverless car.

Much new innovative technology is coming online like the connected vehicle system and autonomous vehicles; however, the systems are complex and expensive to install and maintain. We all know the cost of keeping our road and bridge system’s safe and functional, my guess is the expense to keep a connected system operational may be much higher.

I think we can expect many technology changes in the future that will benefit the way traffic is managed, especially in big cities and heavily used routes.

That is my report, and thanks for allowing me to serve as your transportation chairman.

Commissioner John Ostlund  |  Yellowstone County  |  jostlund@co.yellowstone.mt.gov