Virginia Considers Cameras To Issue Tickets On Alternate Routes Around Toll Road

Plan to toll Virginia interstate creates photo ticketing system to cite people who take alternate routes to avoid tolls. 

Drivers who take a highway exit to avoid having to pay a toll on Virginia’s Interstate 81 could end up paying far more after a ticket arrives in the mail. The state Senate Transportation Committee will consider a proposal later today that would authorize tolling on I-81. Introduced by state Senator Mark D. Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg), the measure would also allow private companies to operate a new type of automated photo enforcement camera that issues tickets based on a motorist’s choice of route. Those attempting to save a bit of money by taking a side street could be subjected to a fine set by the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

“The operator of a vehicle that the board determines is through traffic or that is subject to a through travel restriction… shall be considered to be in violation… if the operator (i) exits the interstate highway to travel on a parallel route in proximity and prior to a toll collection point and (ii) re-enters the interstate highway after the same toll collection point that demonstrates the routes traveled were selected to avoid paying the toll at such toll collection point, determined by the board,” Senate Bill 1716 states.

Earlier this month, Governor Ralph Northam (D) joined Republican leaders in announcing their support for converting all 325 miles of I-81 into a toll road to generate $150 million in annual profit for the state. Obenshain’s implementation legislation includes a number of provisions designed to place the greatest toll burden on out-of-state vehicles. His legislation sets the cost for driving the length of I-81 at no more than $36 for cars in the first year, with limits on how much the tolls are raised on a regular basis. The plan would allow local commuters to register so that they can pass one toll gantry north and one south each day without paying. Residents who need to drive farther on a regular basis can pay a “reasonable” fee for an unlimited annual pass allowing toll-free driving on I-81.

The American Trucking Associations (ATA) is threatening to sue if the plan is approved by the General Assembly. Truckers carry $312 billion worth of goods along I-81 each year, representing 42 percent of the state’s big rig traffic. The group insists the plan is unconstitutional. 

“The car-only annual pass proposal is unlawful under the US Constitution because it represents an impermissible burden on interstate commerce,” ATA general counsel Jennifer Hall wrote in a letter to Northam. “The proposed toll scheme discriminates against interstate commerce by favoring noncommercial vehicles over commercial vehicles — ie, the very vehicles by which interstate commerce moves.”

In their report to the legislature on the plan, state transportation officials calculated that raising the gas tax in the I-81 corridor to the rate already paid by motorists in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads would generate the same amount of revenue as tolling. Opponents pointed out that a significant amount of money paid by motorists under the tolling plan would be taken by overhead costs.

“We need every dollar generated to go toward improving the interstate, not spending it on collecting, administering and enforcing tolls,” Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates spokesman Stephanie Kane said. “SB 1716 simply props up a fiscally irresponsible government bureaucracy to waste taxpayers’ money on toll administration, enforcement, and collection.”



Sikhs Turn To Trucking By The Thousands To Keep The Faith

Driver Mintu Pandher sits in his truck at A&C Truck Stop outside Laramie, Wyoming.

The trucking industry is facing a record shortage of drivers. However, over the last couple of years, one demographic has been gravitating towards the industry by the thousands: Indian-American Sikhs.

The closest town to A&C Truck Stop in southeastern Wyoming is 20 miles away. Mintu Pandher has been a trucker for 16 years. But a few years ago, he decided to buy this truck stop as well.

“Everybody said it was good money and it’s hard work,” he said.






He made a few changes. One small building that used to be a firework stand is now a modest, one-room Sikh temple.

Pandher built the temple to accommodate the growing number of Sikh truckers traveling through his truck stop. According to the political organization, Sikhs PAC, the trucking industry saw that demographic rise by 18,000 in 2017 alone.

The temple gets used on a regular basis by drivers, but Pandher said he was especially glad he built it one spring, a couple of years ago, when some very weary travelers showed up.

Pandher remodeled this firework stand into a Sikh temple to accommodate drivers.


“They were bikers. They were coming in May. They were coming from California. They had no idea that Wyoming gets snow in May as well,” he said.

There were twenty of them and Pandher said they were headed to Iowa for a funeral and a rally.

“So they were sitting on their bikes at night and it was snowing. So we opened the temple and we told them to sleep. And they slept all night,” said Pandher. “They didn’t even wake up until next day’s afternoon.”

For Sikhs like Pandher, trucking is an attractive blue collar job because it doesn’t interfere with their beliefs or traditions.

“You don’t have to go cut your hair,” he said. “You don’t have to take your turban off. You don’t have to lose your faith while you’re working hard.”

In fact, Pandher said days spent on the road reaffirm his faith.

“The biggest thing in Sikhism is service, serve other people. So there’s no other industry that you can better do. Because when you drive a truck, you deliver something, so it gives you the satisfaction. If you deliver food, you deliver fuel—anytime you drive a truck the ultimate destination is the delivery,” he said.

The soundtrack to his shift in the freight industry is Indian pop music. Surjit Khan’s hit song Truck Union has over 2 million views on YouTube and Pandher said: “trucking is actually becoming a pretty hip industry in the Sikh communities.”

Khan’s music video features turbaned dancers in flashy garments spinning in front of a row of shiny semi-trucks. The lyrics describe working as a trucker as a straight shot to the American dream. Mintu Pandher said a lot of Sikh truckers listen to it on the job.

“You can listen to music all day while you’re working. How many other jobs you can? Not too many,” said Pandher.

Still, overall, Americans wanting this type of lifestyle is going down. And it couldn’t happen at a worse time. Demand for trucking services are up with online delivery companies like Amazon Prime becoming more and more popular.

“Trucks haul 70 percent of all the freight tonnage in the United States,” said Bob Costello, the Chief Economist with the American Trucking Associations.

Right now, he said trucking companies have a hard time hiring enough new people to keep up with the demand. And if the current trend continues, Costello said the shortage of drivers could surpass 174,000 by 2026. He said Sikhs entering the business could lighten the load.

“Now that’s not going to solve the problem alone, but it’s one of those things that will help a little bit,” Costello said.

Another bit of help: sweetening the deal for truck drivers generally.

“We saw pay increases every six months last year, right. We also saw things like, ‘Hey, come work for me. After you’ve been here for a little while, I’ll give you a sign-on bonus,’ and many times that’s thousands of dollars,” said Costello.

But Costello added that if it was all about money, it would be an easy problem to solve.

“When you become a truck driver especially a long, haul truck driver,” said Costello, “this is a lifestyle choice that you are making.”

That means long hours behind the wheel, sleeping in the cab of your truck, and long stretches of time without a home cooked meal or seeing your family.

But back at his busy truck stop, Mintu Pandher said there are definite benefits, too, like the different states and vistas he gets to see, and the mountain passes where he often parks his rig for the night.

“Sleeping on 12,000 feet, 11,000 feet. That’s basically like sleeping in the clouds,” Pandher remarked.

Pandher drives mostly short distances these days, and spends fewer nights on the road. That means more time spent managing the gas station. So Pandher expanded services, he’s added an Indian food restaurant to the truck stop.

Two orders of naan and lamb korma.


Past the swinging door and into the kitchen, you can hear the hum of the traditional clay oven used in Indian cuisine. And the menu is pretty extensive: naan, lamb korma, tikka masala, and mango lassis among other things. This way, Pandher said when a Sikh driver stops for fuel, they can also get a meal that tastes like home.


Box truck puts a sudden stop to high speed chase

Three burglary suspects who led officers on a high-speed chase are now in police custody — thanks to a little help from a box truck driver.

The incident began on Friday, January 18, just before 10:30 a.m. when police were informed about a suspected burglary in progress at a home in Chino Hills, California, according to a news release from the San Bernadino Sheriff’s Department.

Police soon located the suspect’s vehicle and tried to initiate a traffic stop, but the suspects refused to pull over. A pursuit began on the westbound 60 Freeway, with the suspects committing “multiple vehicle code violations during the pursuit.”

The suspects eventually exited the 60 Freeway and moved onto Peck Road, where they encountered a slower moving ‘Suppose U Drive’ box truck. The suspect’s vehicle tried to maneuver around the box truck but wound up wedged between the box truck and guard rail. The box truck driver kept going, taking the car’s driver’s side door with it.

The incident brought the car to a halt and all three suspects inside — Cassidy Poston, 21, Oscar Rivas, 20, and Brandon Buchanan, 23 — were taken into police custody without further incident.

Police say that they wish to speak with the box truck driver, who did not stay at the scene. They can be reached at (909) 364-2000.

You can see helicopter-filmed footage of the end of the pursuit below.

Popular weather app has been tracking and selling user data without permission, according to lawsuit

Los Angeles prosecutors have sued the operators of one of the nation’s most popular weather apps for allegedly tracking users and selling their data to third parties.

According to a statement issued by Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer on January 4, a lawsuit has been filed against the operators of the Weather Channel mobile app.

The lawsuit accuses the app operators of “allegedly covertly mining the private data of users and selling the information to third parties, including advertisers.”

Prosecutors say that the Weather Channel app uses geolocation technology to monitor user locations 24 hours a day even though it promised users that it would only use the location technology to provide personalized weather information. The suit alleges that the app “tracks users’ movement in minute detail, even when users are not actively using it.”

The lawsuit accuses the app operators of sharing user location data with parent company  IBM as well as other third-party companies for “advertising and other commercial purposes entirely unrelated to the weather.” The app operators also sold the data to hedge fund operators seeking information about consumer behavior, according to the lawsuit.

The Weather Channel app operators are also accused of deliberately obscuring the way it will use geolocation data information in its privacy policy in order to convince about 80% of users to allow the app access to that data.

The suit seeks to force the Weather Channel app operators to stop “deceptively collecting and selling personal data” in addition to $2500 in civil penalties for each violation. Any court ruling would only apply in the state of California.

IBM has denied any wrongdoing.

More than 45 million people use the Weather Channel app.

Driver killed in semi accident on I-75SB

The driver of a tractor-trailer which crashed just off of I-75 SB Tuesday afternoon has died.

Toledo Police say the truck was traveling down I-75 onto the exit ramp to I-475 WB when it went off the roadway. The vehicle struck three utility poles before coming to a stop about 500 feet from the highway. The driver, identified as 58-year-old Bradley Brenton, was pinned inside the cab of the truck and had to be extricated by the fire department. He was taken to Toledo Hospital where he was later pronounced dead.

Toledo Police closed down a portion of the highway and the exit in order to investigate the crash and clear the scene. The roadway remains closed at this time.