Editor's Note: This story has been updated.
A bill signed into law by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on April 25 will allow the director of the Arizona Department of Transportation to levy an added registration fee on new vehicles, with the monies raised by that extra fee earmarked to fund the Highway Patrol.
ADOT stressed to the AASHTO Journal that this new "Highway Safety Fee" is just that – a user fee to support highway patrol operations. Yet, in turn, this extra fee means funding will not need to be diverted from the state highway fund, which has been used to support the Highway Patrol for the past decade.
Legislative budget analysis cited by the Arizona Daily Sun indicates that the amount of money ADOT needs to raise to accomplish the task of supporting the Highway Patrol is around $148.9 million – translating into roughly an extra $18.06 "above and beyond" the "normal" registration fee for new vehicles.
On top of that, starting in 2020, the measure will increase the registration fee for alternate fuel vehicles as well; a fee hike that will be based on their sticker price.
Meanwhile, ADOT is also adding
eight new drones via a federal technology grant to its operation to help its engineering staff inspect hard-to-reach areas on some bridges as well as perform surveying work along state highways.
The Arizona Council for Transportation Innovation – formed in 2012 as part of a Federal Highway Administration program – granted $18,100 in federal funds and $4,525 in state-matching funds to ADOT so it could buy those eight new drones.
Those new drones will go into service later this year, after selected ADOT employees go through training in order to be certified as drone pilots, noted David Eberhart, one of ADOT's state bridge engineer.
"State highway bridge inspections will still be done by our inspectors, but as an example, a drone can help our teams safely get video or photos of places that are difficult to see," he said.
"Drones will play a role in surveying areas near state highways where rock fall or ground movement are potential hazards," added J.J. Liu, manager of geotechnical services for ADOT's bridge group. "We're focused on the safety of the traveling public in monitoring such locations. A drone can collect photos and other information across a larger survey area while helping to keep engineers or geologists out of harm's way."
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials noted in a
recent survey that 35 state departments of transportation are now using aerial drones regularly or are testing the devices for possible use.
AASHTO's poll found that 20 of those 35 state DOTs that now use them "in daily operations," deploying them to gather photos and videos (including infrared) of highway construction projects as well as to conduct bridge inspections, surveying, pavement evaluations, scientific research and even daily traffic control.
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