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Three Big Things

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  • Plan to add lanes to I-10 Bayway raises safety concerns


    Concerns about adding additional lanes on the Interstate 10 Bayway loom over a project that has yet to go before federal officials for consideration.

    The latest I-10 project calls for restriping the lanes to go from two to three lanes on I-10 on both the westbound and eastbound stretches of the Bayway. But worries exist on whether the move would be safe, since it would likely eliminate the shoulders along the Bayway.

    “I’d like to know if it’s been tried and if it’s been successful some place else,” said Baldwin County Commissioner Joe Davis, following an update on the project Tuesday at the Five Rivers Delta Resource Center in Spanish Fort.

    The update was provided by Edwin Perry, the pre-construction engineer with the Alabama Department of Transportation’s Southwest Region. It was part of a joint meeting with the Mobile and Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organizations, which both added the I-10 project into their short- and long-term plans in June.

    “Everyone is asking me about safety,” Davis said.

    He’s not alone. The president & CEO of the Alabama Trucking Association is also concerned about what an additional lane on an unaltered Bayway will mean for safety.

    “Yes, that’s a concern,” he said. “ALDOT has to work with the Federal Highway Authority to see if it’s feasible. It’s concerning. If capacity is not expanded on the full bridge concept, there will still be a bottleneck and there won’t be a shoulder (on the Bayway).”

    Any decision to add an additional lane on both sides of the 7.5-mile Bayway is not close to happening. Perry, following his update to the MPOs, told AL.com that a final project team will be assembled next month at which time the group will begin discussions about the overall bridge and Bayway project with the FHWA.

    But Perry continuously declined to provide rough dates or deadlines for the project that, as proposed, will include the construction of a new bridge and new interchanges in Mobile and along the Bayway toward U.S. 98 in Daphne.

    “I think given a month or two, we’ll have answers to a lot of questions (regarding dates),” said Perry. He said that ALDOT will provide its next update to the MPOs sometime in the next two months.

    Perry said that environmental documents, which were approved for the former $2.1 billion I-10 Mobile River Bridge and Bayway plan – which was declared “dead” by Gov. Kay Ivey in August 2019, amid public outcry over tolling the Bayway and the existing Wallace Tunnel – would need to be revised with the latest plan. There is no timetable for how long that might take.

    “We’re not even far enough along to toss out a six-year, eight-year or a 10 year or something (timeframe),” said Davis. “A lot of work needs to be done in the weeds to know what our options are.”

    Financing is also a big unknown. The project’s financing proposal currently includes $125 million federal Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant that was secured in 2019; $250 million in state, non-federal subsidies through Alabama’s fuel tax revenues; and $300 million in low-interest loans that would be paid for with toll revenues. The new bridge over the Mobile River, as proposed, would be tolled. The Wallace Tunnel would not.

    The project is also not being referred to as a “truck toll” bridge, which it was originally pitched as earlier this year.

    Colson said he believes that truckers should not be responsible for paying for the lion share of the project. He said that “all options” of financing should be explored on a project that could, when it’s completed, cost up to $2 billion.

    “People want the government to pay for it,” said Colson. “But we need to explore all of the options. It will take some of all of those things to bring a $2 billion project to life.”

    Plan to add lanes to I-10 Bayway raises safety concerns - al.com

  • CDC recommends fully vaccinated wear masks in certain indoor areas, advises universal masking for schools

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Tuesday that fully vaccinated individuals should wear masks in certain indoor areas and advised universal masking for schools regardless of individuals' vaccination status amid rising infections due to the delta variant. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky later said in a call with reporters that the decision to issue new guidance "was not something we took lightly," but comes amid "worrisome" new science. 

    "In recent days, I have seen new scientific data from sequenced outbreak investigations showing that the delta variant behaves uniquely differently from past strains of the virus that cause COVID-19," Walensky told reporters over a call. "Information on the delta variant from several states and other countries indicate that in rare occasions, some vaccinated people infected with the delta variant after vaccination may be contagious and spread the virus to others."

    "This new science is worrisome and unfortunately warrants an update to our recommendations," Walensky said.

    Walensky noted that vaccinated individuals represent a small percentage of new virus transmission and that the agency continues "to estimate the risk of a breakthrough infection with symptoms upon exposure to the delta variant is reduced by seven-fold." 

    "The reduction is 20-fold for hospitalizations and deaths," she said. "As CDC has recommended for months, unvaccinated individuals should get vaccinated and continue masking until they are fully vaccinated." 

    Per the new guidance, in areas with substantial and high transmission, CDC recommends that fully vaccinated individuals wear a mask in public indoor settings to help prevent spread of delta and protect others.

    "This moment, and most importantly, the associated illness, suffering and death could have been avoided with higher vaccination coverage in this country," she said. 

    In a significant shift from prior guidance, the CDC also recommended "universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status." 

    Walensky sidestepped whether the new guidance would remove the incentive for some parents to seek vaccines for kids.

    The CDC previously advised masks be worn indoors by all individuals ages 2 and older not fully vaccinated against coronavirus and stated that those who are fully vaccinated didn’t need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting, including while participating in extracurricular activities or while eating. However, the agency noted that based on the needs of the community, a school may opt to make mask use universally required regardless of vaccination status. 

    Walensky later stated that the CDC's decision to issue new guidance was "not something we took lightly." 

    "This new data weighs heavily on me, this new guidance weighs heavily on me," she said. "And I just wanted to convey that this is not a decision that was taken lightly."

    The CDC urged those not yet vaccinated, and eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, to do so, writing: "Unvaccinated individuals should get vaccinated and continue masking until they are fully vaccinated. With the Delta variant, this is more urgent than ever. The highest spread of cases and severe outcomes is happening in places with low vaccination rates and among unvaccinated people."

    The CDC defines areas of substantial viral transmission as 50 to 100 cases per 100,000 population over a seven-day period, and high viral spread is defined as over 100 cases per 100,000 over a seven-day period. Some areas are experiencing over 300 cases per 100,000 population at the moment, Walensky said.

    CDC recommends fully vaccinated wear masks in certain indoor areas, advises universal masking for schools | Fox News

  • Biden to announce COVID vaccine-or-test mandate for federal workers: report

    President Biden will announce Thursday that federal employees and contractors must either be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to regular testing, according to a report.

    The CNN report came hours after the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention announced it was recommending vaccinated Americans wear masks indoors in counties with at least 50 cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day period — a description that covers nearly two-thirds of all US counties.

    The federal vaccine requirement will be similar to that laid out by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who announced Monday that a vaccination-or-test mandate would be in effect for the entire city workforce, according to CNN.

    In a statement responding to the new recommendations, Biden announced that he would “lay out the next steps in our effort to get more Americans vaccinated” Thursday and implored those eligible who have not already gotten the shot to do so.

    “Today’s announcement by the CDC … is another step on our journey to defeating this virus. I hope all Americans who live in the areas covered by the CDC guidance will follow it; I certainly will when I travel to these areas,” the president said, later adding, “Most importantly, today’s announcement also makes clear that the most important protection we have against the Delta variant is to get vaccinated. Although most U.S. adults are vaccinated, too many are not.”

    Those who work in publicly-run residential or congregate care facilities, including nursing homes, will be required to present proof of vaccination by Aug. 16 or submit to weekly testing. Employees at all other city agencies will have until Sept. 13 to show that they got jabbed.

    On Monday, the Department of Veterans Affairs became the first federal agency to mandate that its health care personnel get vaccinated against coronavirus. Secretary Denis McDonough said the directive applies to physicians, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists, registered nurses, physician assistants, expanded-function dental auxiliaries, chiropractors and other health professionals who work in VA facilities, visit the facilities or provide direct care to those served by the federal agency.

    Biden is also expected to announce Thursday how the Defense Department should approach the issue of vaccinating service members. Currently, there is no mandate in place for America’s soldiers, sailors and airmen to get the vaccine.

    The expected mandate is likely to be challenged in court, due to the fact that the vaccines have only been approved on an emergency basis by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

    However, in an opinion earlier this month, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) stated their belief that federal law does not preclude governments and private businesses from requiring vaccinations even if they are only approved on an emergency basis.

    Biden to announce COVID vaccine-or-test mandate for federal workers: report (nypost.com)

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