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7/2/15 / The Herald Dispatch

  • Blood drive honors area firefighter

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HUNTINGTON - In the past, whenever there was a charitable cause to get behind, Huntington firefighter Wes Bowden led the charge.

Whether it was the fire department's boot drive to benefit kids at the Huntington City Mission or helping to distribute Angel Tree gifts with the Salvation Army, "Wes was always there to help, and he never asked for anything in return," said his longtime friend, Capt. Chris Wilson.

Since April, Bowden has found himself on the receiving end of firefighters' generosity, after suffering an aortic aneurysm at the station.

He's had five surgeries since, and spent the past few months at home working hard on recovering.

Firefighters' support was demonstrated again when they showed up in droves Wednesday at the St. Mary's Conference Center for an American Red Cross Blood Drive in Bowden's honor. The blood drive was put on in partnership with St. Mary's and the Rahall Transportation Institute, where Bowden's wife, Cassey, works as marketing director.

Both Wes and Cassey Bowden, who are parents to two young boys, were on hand at the blood drive on Wednesday and said the support they've experienced in the past few months has been overwhelming.

"It's very exciting," Wes Bowden said of the great turnout at the blood drive on Wednesday. "I really appreciate it, and I'm glad to see so many people come."

He's still in the process of recovery, but has gone from re-learning how to take a first step to walking up to half mile a day.

He's a fighter, Wilson said.

"The way he's fought through all this is just an inspiration to us," Wilson said, while donating blood. "And on top of that, he's just a great guy who didn't deserve any of this. He fought through it and has taken every challenge head-on. He's not back to work yet, but he's fighting to get back."

Cassey Bowden said she's been "taken aback" at the community support. It started in the hospital, where the firefighters showed up in force and where people brought food, cards, paintings and other tokens to show their support.

"You live in a place you love, and you're going about your life and raising your family, and you don't think something so tragic and life-changing will happen, or that people will respond in such a caring way," Cassey Bowden said. St. Mary's, where Wes Bowden was treated, was tremendous, she said, from the doctors and nursing staff to the janitorial staff, whom she got to know well, to the volunteers. She also expressed gratitude to the Rahall Transportation Institute, where she just returned back to her job and which, under the leadership of Executive Director Frank Betz, encouraged all employees to take time off Wednesday afternoon to head over to St. Mary's to donate blood.

The blood drive was booming as of mid-afternoon on Wednesday, just a couple hours in.

"Team Bowden is in full effect," said St. Mary's spokeswoman Angela Henderson-Bentley. "It's been amazing - the response from the community, his fellow firefighters and even students here at the School of Nursing, who just came over."

The Red Cross was a fitting charity, as Bowden himself received some 40 pints of blood throughout his treatment.

Chad Pauley from the Red Cross recruitment division said it was a tremendous gesture, not to mention a great time to donate because supplies are low in the summer.

Forty percent of the Red Cross's donations come from students, and with school out in the summertime, donations drop a great deal.

To schedule an appointment to donate blood or for more information, call 800-733-2767 or visit www.redcrossblood.org.

6/16/15 / The Herald Dispatch

  • Parsec to operate Prichard terminal

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PRICHARD - A big missing piece was put in place Tuesday when it was announced Cincinnati-based Parsec Inc. will be hired to operate the $30 million Heartland Intermodal Gateway facility at Prichard.

The decision was made by the West Virginia Public Port Authority's Board of Directors. Charles Neal Vance, director of the Port Authority, praised the board's decision.

"Parsec will be an excellent company to operate our facility at Prichard; they have many years of experience and bring a safety record that is unmatched," he said. "The West Virginia Public Port Authority Board of Directors believes there can be an excellent opportunity with this company, with their corporate headquarters in Cincinnati and intermodal operations with Norfolk Southern in Columbus."

Prichard is the terminus in West Virginia for Norfolk and Southern Railroad's Heartland Corridor, which begins in Norfolk, Virginia, and ends in Chicago. The cargo transfer facility is expected to attract businesses, particularly warehousing operations.

Parsec currently operates 33 terminals in the United States, Canada and Mexico. According to its website, Parsec's operations are responsible for handling approximately 45 percent of the nation's trailer on flatcar, or TOFC, traffic each year.

"We put out a request for proposals, and we looked thoroughly at every respondent," Chris Fleming, development coordinator for the Port Authority, said. "Parsec came to the top."

The Heartland Intermodal Gateway terminal will offer industrial and warehousing space, a modern and efficient freight container service and improved access to international rail lines.

The 100-acre terminal will be bordered by the Big Sandy River with access to U.S. 52 approximately 10 miles south of I-64 in Kenova.

Fleming said Parsec officials will be on site beginning in August preparing for the facility's planned December 2015 opening. Parsec will hire a gate operator, terminal supervisor and two equipment operators, but the facility is expected to have a ripple effect across West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky in terms of jobs.

The terminal will open not long after the completion of a multi-million dollar expansion by auto parts manufacturer Allevard Sogefi at the A. Michael Perry Industrial Park in Prichard.

Norfolk Southern has spent millions to get the facility built and make proper modifications to existing railways.

Parsec also operates Norfolk Southern's Rickenbacker Intermodal Terminal near Columbus, Ohio. The $68.5 million facility is part of the Rickenbacker Global Logistics Park, one of the largest integrated logistics complexes in the United States. Other Parsec clients include Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, Union Pacific Corporation, Triple Crown Services, CSX Corporation, Canadian Pacific Railway, Canadian National, Kansas City Southern and Florida East Coast Railway.

"This is a big step toward getting everything going in December," W.Va. Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said. "I am glad to get this part over with. The terminal is moving along well and everything is on par."

Plymale, who spent years in the legislature trying to appropriate funds and incentives for the project, said this past March that not having a company to operate the facility was "problematic" in regard to businesses looking at the project.

U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-West Virginia, also said in March that delays choosing an operator were "alarming," but added the multi-million dollar project will be a significant stimulant to job growth and economic development.

"As such, it needs to be a professionally run and well-managed facility," he said.

Rahall Transportation Institute CEO and executive director Frank Betz outlined the facility's benefits. He said the Heartland Intermodal Gateway terminal will increase the flow of goods between the East Coast, Midwest and West Coast; increase efficiency for large shipments; enhance the ability to compete and trade globally; provide alternative shipping options for domestic markets; offer environmentally friendly transportation options; improves access to ports, satellite terminals and distribution centers; and reduce highway congestion and fuel consumption.

"The Parsec announcement is great news for West Virginia," Betz said. "Parsec works with Norfolk Southern really well and they have everything they need to operate this facility. By having this terminal we can build around it manufacturing, warehouse and distribution jobs."

Parsec Vice President David Budig said he was pleased when notified his company was awarded the contract.

"There's a lot of potential for growth in that area," Budig said. "The need for more employees will be there as the facility grows, which I expect will happen quickly. This is a wonderful opportunity for Prichard and the entire state of West Virginia."

The company that became Parsec began in 1949 when the general manager of the Cincinnati Transfer Company, Otto Budig, started Budig Trucking Company. Later, the company expanded and created Parsec.

Follow reporter Brandon Roberts on Twitter @brobertsHD.

4/9/15 / The State Journal

  • Huntington, WV awarded grant to aid development of polymer center

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded the City of Huntington a $200,000 planning grant to aid in cleaning up old industrial sites in the city's Highlawn neighborhood and facilitate development of an “advanced polymer center.”

Mayor Steve Williams told a March 9 news conference that Huntington is one of only 20 communities nationwide to receive a grant this year under the EPA's Brownfields Area-Wide Planning Program.

Williams said the city hopes to redevelop nearly 80 acres of underutilized, former manufacturing facilities along the Ohio River between the Marshall University campus and the Highlawn neighborhood. In addition to the $200,000 planning grant, the Huntington Municipal Development Authority has applied for a $400,000 EPA grant to address the tract's environmental issues.

The long-idle ACF Industries rail car plant is included in the grant area, but the status of the plant remains uncertain. Questioned after the news conference, Williams said he hopes to meet with ACF soon to discuss the plant's future. The mayor said the vision for the redeveloped grant area includes new recreational and riverfront facilities, retail and hotel development, green areas aimed at improving storm water management and the new polymer center.

Earlier this year, the City of Huntington, the Huntington Municipal Development Authority, Marshall University, the Marshall University Research Corp., Marshall's Brownfields Assistance Center, the Rahall Appalachian Transportation Institute, the Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing and Rubberlike Inc., formed a collaborative team to develop the polymer center.

A Huntington firm, Rubberlite, manufactures high-tech engineered rubber and plastic foams that go into a wide array of uses — from shoes and bras to cars and trucks, and even the Space Shuttle.

“We started out in 1986 with two employees and no customers,” J. Allen Mayo, Rubberlite's founder and CEO, told the news conference. Today, he said, Rubberlite has 170 employees and exports its products to 45 countries.

Williams said Marshall and Rubberlite will work with the city to launch the new polymer center downtown in an interim facility in a former Appalachian Power Co. office building in the 1100 block of 6th Avenue. Manufacturing companies have already committed to transfer investment and jobs into the polymer center later this year, he said.

The center, Williams said, “will provide companies developing market-driven technologies and products with the resources to commercialize and integrate into new light manufacturing plants and the global supply chain.”

3/29/15 / The Herald Dispatch

  • RTI Working to Improve the State’s Infrastructure, Economy

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From the cameras that control traffic signals to the database police use to file crash reports to the Hatfield-McCoy ATV trails and the Heartland Intermodal Gateway, the Rahall Appalachian Transportation Institute has its hands in just about any project that involves transportation and economic development.

"Without transportation, we couldn't have civilizations," said Frank Betz, executive director and CEO of RTI. "...We need a reliable transportation system ... One of the big problems we have now is (poor) infrastructure in this country."

In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers rated West Virginia's infrastructure as poor, Betz said, with "some lock and dam systems on the verge of choking off vital commerce, with failures looming from a system with over 380 high-hazard dams."

Additionally, the engineers say 46 percent of the state's bridges are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete and 47 percent of the state's roads are in poor or mediocre condition, which costs motorists an average of $273 each year in added repair and operating costs.

Betz said the main impediment to better infrastructure is the massive costs and lack of funding from the federal government.

"The United States right now only spends 2 percent of its GDP on infrastructure. That's a 60 percent decline since 1960. China spends 9 percent, and Europe spends 5 percent," Betz said. "It's just a downward spiral for our infrastructure. We're not investing money and there's a lot of reasons, like people fighting about not raising taxes."

The American population is expected to grow to 400 million by 2050, and a country that flourished from its early investment in rail is now lagging behind Europe, Japan and China, which all have high-speed passenger rail, Betz said.

One of the issues is the federal gas tax is at 18.4 cents per gallon, and it's been that amount for 20 years.

So how is RTI working to improve the states of transportation and the economy in West Virginia?

RTI works with industry, government and university to advance multimodal transportation, research and technology solutions for economic growth and development.

"When you do business in that area, you can get a lot done. I have relationships in government ... industry partners in different companies and the university," Betz said. "... RTI is not static. We're changing with the times, and with the times, there's much more focus and integration from a technology standpoint."

One of the projects RTI has been involved with from the start is the Heartland Intermodal Gateway, which is scheduled to open in December 2015. Betz said it will be an "on and off ramp to the global economy."

"You have companies ... that see huge benefits from being able to ship their goods here. It's going to open up a lot of opportunity for warehousing and distribution," he said. "It's really going to be a big boon for this area."

RTI has also developed a web application that allows for sharing, consolidation and standardization of data related to post-mine land sites, called an economic development data portal.

"Land use planning is important in transportation because you have to understand that if you're trying to develop an area, you have to be able to plan where your roads can be," Betz said. "In West Virginia, there are a lot of post-mine lands so the (Office of Coalfield Community Development) asked us to get involved and create a site selector tool."

The site selector allows companies considering a location in West Virginia to find the optimal site for their business by viewing different levels of infrastructure provided in certain areas.

RTI is also involved in data collection and analysis, such as the West Virginia Workforce Study. RTI analysts have gathered information on workforce demographics in order to recommend strategies to address any critical shortages of workers. For example, Betz said, there is currently a shortage in welders. By knowing this, adjustments can be made to education and training in the state.

One of the more innovative projects with which RTI is involved is intelligent transportation systems. Betz said RTI will be involved with a connected vehicle study as the technology rolls out in the next five years across the country.

Connected vehicles are those that communicate with the infrastructure grid - for example, a car that can drive itself.

"We're going to be involved in making sure West Virginia stays in step with what's going on in the rest of the country and make sure we have the proper infrastructure to support it," Betz said. "Because if two-thirds of the country had connected vehicles and driverless vehicles that connected to their infrastructure and we didn't - from an economic development standpoint, it would be the same thing as not having roads.

"We've missed out enough in this area," he said.

The West Virginia Department of Transportation sponsors highway projects at RTI, including the intelligent transportation systems that use cameras and sensors to monitor road and traffic conditions, the electronic commercial drivers license system, and the GPS reporting system that allows the West Virginia State Police to record and electronically submit information on traffic stops, incidents and arrests.

The Federal Railroad Administration's Office of Research and Development sponsors rail projects that are aimed at improving safety by making rail cars more visible and warning train operators of possible issues on their vehicle or on the track. RTI also works with the U.S. Corps of Engineers.

Some of the other projects in which RTI is involved include the Paul Ambrose Trail for Health, the Hatfield-McCoy Motorized Trail, and the recently announced Advanced Polymer Center.

More details about RTI's projects and research can be found at www.njrati.org.

3/09/15 / The Herald Dispatch

  • PATH Connecting People to City, Healthy Lifestyles

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Here in Huntington you often hear the word PATH — What is it, where does it go, what are future plans for this trail that connects the city?

Those are all questions answered easily by Bethany Williams, who is the program coordinator at RTI, the Rahall Transportation Institute in Huntington, which has planned and manages the ever-growing Paul Ambrose Trail for Health.

Here's a closer look at The PATH through a quick Q&A with Williams.

Lavender: "For folks who just moved into Huntington or new students, tell us a brief history of PATH and how it came together."

Williams: "PATH is a growing bicycle and pedestrian trail system providing free, healthy recreational opportunities as well as an alternative transportation trail. Through grants, fundraising, sponsorships and individual contributions the first fifteen miles were able to be built. Currently, RTI is working with the City of Huntington to secure opportunities that connect current sections and fund the next sections of PATH."

Lavender: "Tell us a little bit about Paul Ambrose and how you think the PATH really honors his legacy of fighting against obesity in the U.S."

Williams: "PATH is named after Dr. Paul Ambrose, who was a promising young physician from Huntington and who graduated from Marshall's School of Medicine. The Ambrose family are active members of the Huntington community. Dr. Paul Ambrose, the namesake of PATH, had his life ended on September 11, 2001, when terrorists crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon. Dr. Ambrose focused his medical career on family health and using preventative medicine to fight obesity. PATH is a way to continue his medical legacy and impact the health of Huntington. PATH has been a tool for the community, it gives the opportunity to take a walk right outside their back yard. PATH has been a part of the culture change for Huntington, where people now are more likely to get outside and exercise thus embracing a healthier lifestyle. PATH has given many people a means to change their quality of life. "

Lavender: "What were some of the highlights in 2014 for PATH construction? And for you, someone who has worked closely with PATH, what were some of your highlights in the past year of getting to enjoy, and/or getting to see fellow citizens utilizing PATH?"

Williams: "In 2014, we were able to fund the Washington Boulevard section of PATH using only the money that was raised at Fit Fest 2014. That means every person who came out and ran, donated, participated and volunteered was essential in building the Washington Boulevard trail. Every dollar mattered. It is exciting to know that each person made that difference. Some highlights for me personally this past year was seeing the local running group (Huntington Road Runners) grow and utilize every section of the PATH. It is inspiring to have 20+ people running on a section of PATH in 20-degree weather wearing head lights. It really shows the need to make more PATH connections to provide longer and safer trails. Another highlight this year was the many groups and individual people reaching out to PATH in order to help. There is so much that needs to be done to keep the PATH our PATH (weeds, flower beds, trash pick-up). We need these community members who care and contribute to continuing reach out to us and give their ideas and lend a hand."

Lavender: "PATH really does a great job of connecting both neighborhoods, like Altizer and Guyandotte, and providing good Share The Road sections like Fourth Avenue that runs past the new soccer stadium. What are some of the benefits of making these connections?"

Williams: "There are so many benefits. From a transportation point of view: Less traffic on the road, to enhancing safety and encouraging use of alternative transportation. From an economic point of view: Business and tourism opportunities by creating access and connectivity from residential areas to downtown. From a health point of view: PATH encourages walking, running, biking, skating and being active. Connecting our community helps provide a sustainable network and community and creates a better quality of life for those seeking more options in the area."

Lavender: "Are there any projects planned for PATH in 2015? And when will the popular Tour de PATH event be held in 2015?"

Williams: "We have a handful of spring projects planned. Bike sharrows (shared lane bicycle marking) to be laid, and community beautification efforts to be had. Tour De PATH is going to be May 16 and will be a part of the Sustainability Fair. This year's focus will be on bike safety and traffic safety campaigns."

Lavender: "What's the best way for citizens to find out about PATH and to help PATH realize its full potential?"

Williams: "You can always check out PATH online at www.paulambrosetrail.org. Or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Information at PATH can be found at CVB or any of your local running/biking stores. Get out there and walk on a trail, bike one day a week to do a chore, use the system, then you will start to get a feel for how important a cohesive trail system can be. Get involved, help make a difference. Join us in making our community beautiful and a proud place to live."

1/29/15 / Huntington News

  • CSX Makes $25,000 Gift to Rahall Appalachian Transportation Institute

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CSX Corporation presented a gift of $25,000 to the Rahall Appalachian Transportation Institute, a National University Transportation Center based at Marshall University, in a ceremony Friday, Jan. 16.

The presentation took place in the office of Interim MU President Gary White in Old Main on the Huntington campus.

The gift increased the total amount of donations from CSX to Marshall to more than $814,000 since 1984, according to Dr. Ron Area, CEO of the Marshall University Foundation Inc.

Randy Cheetham, regional vice president for CSX, presented the check to Frank Betz, RTI’s executive director and CEO.

“The Rahall Transportation Institute has become a great partner with CSX,” Cheetham said. “We’ve worked with them on several research projects, and we’ve found them to be a tremendous resource. We’re very fortunate to have them right here in our own backyard.”

Betz called CSX “a great company” that has been partnering with RTI in rail research for a long time. “We appreciate this latest donation,” he said.

Betz said this donation is going towards future advancements in technology and research at RTI.

Cheetham added, “We have a long history with Marshall University and we are very proud of that partnership. We want to continue to keep it strong and to keep it going.”

CSX Corporation, based in Jacksonville, Fla., is one of the nation’s leading transportation companies, providing rail, intermodal and rail-to-truck transload services. The company’s transportation network spans approximately 21,000 miles, with service to 23 eastern states and the District of Columbia, and connects to more than 70 ocean, river and lake ports.

RTI is a leader in multimodal transportation and economic development. It is recognized by the U.S. Department of Transportation for transportation excellence focused on applied technology, research, education, outreach and training.

From left, Lance West, Marshall University’s vice president for development; Frank Betz, executive director and CEO of the Rahall Appalachian Transportation Institute; Randy Cheetham, regional vice president with CSX; Gary White, MU’s interim president; MichaeSellards, chairman of the Marshall board of governors, and Dr. Ron Area, CEO of the Marshall Foundation Inc., pose with a check for $25,000 presented from CSX to RTI.

 

1/1/15 / Charleston Daily Mail

  • Rep. Nick Rahall Leaving a Long Legacy

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At right, 4th-district House candidate Nick Rahall waves after voting in Beckley with his then-wife, Helen McDaniel, on Nov. 2, 1976.
After nearly four decades, Rep. Nick J. Rahall II, D-W.Va., will be on the outside of the U.S. Capitol looking in come Saturday.

On Nov. 4, Republican challenger Evan Jenkins won the election for the House seat Rahall had occupied since 1977, garnering 76,726 votes, or 55.29 percent, versus Rahall’s 62,044 votes, or 44.71 percent.

First elected to the House of Representatives in 1976, Rahall served 19 terms in the House. He is the top Democrat in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and fought for federal highway funding, veterans’ benefits, gun rights and miners’ benefits and safety.

Rahall, 65, is a Beckley native and Woodrow Wilson High School graduate. Following his defeat in November, Larry Puccio, chairman of the Democratic Party of West Virginia, said in a statement that Rahall’s work in Congress made a lasting impact on West Virginia and his district.

“Nick Rahall has been such a tremendous leader to the state of West Virginia,” Puccio said. “From fighting for coal jobs and miner safety, to highway and infrastructure improvements and countless other contributions, he is a champion of the issues, projects and values so important to our state.”

Rahall was first elected to Congress in 1976 in an election that was anything but ordinary. Fourth district incumbent Democratic congressman Ken Hechler gave up his House seat to run against Jay Rockefeller in the 1976 gubernatorial election, but lost. Hechler then ran as a write-in candidate against Rahall and Republican challenger Steve Goodman to try to retain his seat.

The unlikely Democrat-versus-Democrat House primary led to widespread voter confusion and delays in vote-counting. Voters were not familiar with the write-in process, and many election officials were equally confused. Some precincts told voters they could not use stamps for Hechler’s name, while others allowed the use of stamps that had been distributed by Hechler’s campaign.

Once the results were canvassed, Rahall had defeated Hechler 45.6 percent to 36.6 percent. Goodman retained only 17.8 percent of the vote.

Rahall earned overwhelming support from West Virginia’s southern coalfields in the 4th congressional district. Rahall then ran for and won the 3rd congressional district seat in 1992, after West Virginia lost its 4th district due to population decline reflected in the 1990 census.

For the most part, Rahall consistently won what was considered one of the most heavily Democratic House districts in the country. Before 2014, Rahall’s only other close general election was in 1990, when he fended off Republican challenger Marianne R. Brewster with a 52-percent victory. Democrats won seven House seats in 1990 to get 267 total seats, while the GOP lost eight seats and fell to 167 seats.

Rahall served for 34 years on the Committee on Natural Resources and chaired the committee for four of those years. He was the chief sponsor of the 1992 Coal Act, which established a health benefits fund for coal miners, and in 2006 he secured funding for the Mine Safety Technology Consortium in Montgomery, which Rahall described as a “catalyst for transforming mining know-how into superior coal mine health and safety products and services, including training technologies.”

Rahall served as the top Democrat on the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure since 2011. He established the Rahall Transportation Institute at Marshall University, and helped acquire federal funding for many West Virginia highway projects over the years, including the King Coal Highway and Coalfields Expressway.

Like many Democrats across the country, Rahall’s re-election chances in 2014 were shot by public disapproval of President Barack Obama and his controversial policies, including new, more stringent carbon emission regulations that have had a ripple effect on West Virginia’s coalfields. Rahall supported Obama in 2008 and again in 2012, and lost the West Virginia Coal Association’s endorsement last year.

Marybeth Beller, director of the Department of Political Science at Marshall University, said this fall that Rahall’s defensive stance against claims he had “betrayed” West Virginia’s coal industry likely did not help his chances for re-election.

“The Congressman made very little attempt to educate the public to the real reasons for the decline in employment in coal, instead going on the defensive to suggest he didn’t support the EPA proposals, which is true,” Beller said. “However, he allowed the argument to become one in which he took a defensive posture, rather than educating the public and discussing ways to work to diversify the economy.”

Furthermore, Beller thinks Rahall’s campaign against Obama — a tactic many Democrats employed to try to distance themselves from the unpopular president — portrayed conflict within the party, which may have led many voters away from the Democratic candidates.

“Rather than tout positive initiatives by the Obama White House that have helped West Virginians ... Rahall campaigned against the president just as Jenkins did,” Beller said. “For the voters it appeared as though Rahall was against all the policies of the president, who is also the leader of his party. The message he, and (2nd House district Democratic candidate Nick) Casey and (Democratic Senate candidate Natalie) Tennant, sent to the voters begged the question: if the leader of the party is so bad, why would voters stay with that party?”

Rahall retires this weekend as the youngest-elected, longest-serving representative in the history of the House. He is married to Melinda Rahall of Ashland, Ky., and has three children, Rebecca, Nick Joe III and Suzanne Nicole and three grandchildren.

- See more at: http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20150101/DM01/150109921/1276#sthash.0Qik9J3h.dpuf

12/4/14 / Charleston Daily Mail

  • Charleston Traffic Signal Project Nearly Complete

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Driving into downtown Charleston at 8:30 a.m. on any given weekday can be a frustrating experience — especially if traffic signals don’t work in your favor.

But soon, 58 intersections in downtown Charleston will be networked together and programmed remotely to keep traffic moving more smoothly at any time of the day, especially during morning and evening rush hours.

Aaron Bias, a traffic signal technician for highway contractor company Bayliss & Ramey, recently turned on wireless radios on traffic signals replaced as part of a $4.6 million Department of Transportation project to revamp traffic signals and street signs in Charleston. Each signal will communicate with one of two “access points” — one on the East End and one on the West Side — and each access point will be securely linked to the Rahall Transportation Institute at Marshall University, where a computer controls when lights turn red and green.

“In the morning, you’re going to have heavy traffic coming into the town, and in the evening, you’re going to have a lot going out,” Bias said. “They’re going to change those patterns so the lights are actually going to be running different timings at different times of the day. And at different intersections, where there’s higher volume of traffic coming in, like the Leon Sullivan Way exit ... In the mornings, there’s high traffic volume there, so it’s going to run a different pattern there in the morning than in the evening.”

The Division of Highways first announced Charleston’s multimillion-dollar stoplight replacement project in 2010 with an estimated completion date in the summer of 2012. New LED traffic lights, illuminated street signs and computerized control systems have been installed at nearly 60 intersections throughout Charleston. Crosswalk signals and buttons have also been added along Kanawha Boulevard so that pedestrians can safely cross to or from the riverfront.

City traffic engineer Allen Copley said the LEDs in the stoplights will save the city in energy costs, and Bias said the computerized traffic signaling system will reduce stop-and-go traffic on major streets, leading to quicker travel times and less fuel waste. The signals also have sensors that change lights to green when an emergency vehicle is approaching.

The project has been hit with delays and caused some inconveniences for commuters, but Copley said so far, public reaction to the new traffic signals has been mostly positive.

“We’ve already gotten several positive comments about a lot of the left turn arrows we’ve installed in different parts of the city,” Copley said. “Specifically at Dickinson (Street) and Quarrier (Street), people coming north seem to like that one. We’ve had very few complaints.”

Bias said motorists will notice a change in coming weeks once Charleston’s traffic signals are connected to the Rahall Transportation Institute. Right now, Bias said each traffic signal in Charleston is running on an independent, timed schedule; once the Rahall Transportation Institute takes control, a computer will control the timings of red and green lights at each intersection and can make changes citywide based on traffic volume and other factors.

“It’s designed to flow massive amounts of traffic in one direction,” Bias said. “System times are designed for gas savings, so you’re not stopping and going all the time, so you can get going and go straight through town. In theory, if you hit one end of Virginia Street here, if you drive a certain speed, you should be able to drive all the way through to the other end of Virginia Street without hitting a red light.”

The Rahall Transportation Institute also controls the traffic signaling for the cities of Huntington and Morgantown. Andrew Nichols, director of Intelligent Transportation Systems for the Rahall Transportation Institute, said drivers would purposefully avoid Fifth and Third avenues in Huntington before the signals on those streets were upgraded. Since Huntington’s traffic signal replacement project finished up in 2012, Nichols said the traffic lights on those streets are synchronized to change in a “green wave,” so someone driving the speed limit could theoretically drive all the way through Huntington without hitting a red light.

Nichols said the new traffic signaling in Huntington not only keeps traffic running smoothly; it encourages drivers to drive the speed limit.

Similar benefits will be seen in Charleston once the secure link between Charleston and the Rahall Transportation Institute is installed. Nichols and traffic engineers from the City of Charleston and the Division of Highways will have access to real-time data about the traffic signals at each of Charleston’s intersections, including vehicle traffic volume, pedestrian volume and any issues with signals. They will be able to manipulate the traffic lights as needed and troubleshoot problems with the click of a mouse.

“If there’s a problem, if they start getting calls about a left turn not lasting long enough, they can pull up an intersection and see what’s happening there,” Nichols said. “If an intersection goes into flash (flashing yellow lights), they’ll get an email notification, and they can go in and see what’s causing it to go into flash.”

Radar sensors installed at many intersections will detect how many cars are stopped at a red light, and the computer will use that data in determining when to change a light from red to green. Copley told the Daily Mail in May that traffic lights on Kanawha Boulevard will only turn red if the radars detect traffic waiting to turn onto the boulevard or pedestrians press a button to cross the boulevard.

“Hopefully we can do a little more with this new technology and equipment to make the city better,” Copley said. “We have more tools to work with.”

Most of the work is complete, and the project is expected to be completely finished by the end of the year.