With snow forecast, don’t get blindsided on highways

PHOENIX – With snow forecast Friday in Arizona’s high country, please don’t take lightly the power and unpredictability of a winter storm as well as the potential for it to leave you stranded on a highway.

Arizona Department of Transportation snowplows will be out in force, but driving conditions are hazardous during winter weather. A highway can close suddenly if enough snow falls in a brief period or if there are crashes, slide-offs or both. That happened during Monday’s snowstorm, when northbound I-17 climbing out of the Verde Valley closed for several hours due to a serious crash.

The safest decision when snow falls is delaying travel until the storm passes and highways have been cleared. In addition to the obvious danger if your vehicle and others are stuck on or along a snow-covered highway, stranded vehicles also make clearing the roadway much more difficult and time-consuming for ADOT’s snowplows.

Before deciding whether and when to travel, check weather reports and get the latest highway conditions by visiting ADOT’s Arizona Traveler Information site at az511.gov, calling 511 or reviewing ADOT’s Twitter feed (@ArizonaDOT). When a freeway closure or other major traffic event occurs, our free app available at ADOTAlerts.com will send critical information directly to app users in affected areas – where possible, in advance of alternate routes.

If delaying travel isn’t possible, leave prepared for the possibility that you’ll spend extended time in winter conditions. Pack an emergency kit with items like extra blankets, warm clothes, food and water, cat litter or sand for traction, a first-aid kit and a fully charged cellphone.

Those looking to head up north this weekend to play in snow should remember that highway shoulders are for emergencies only. In addition to endangering you and your passengers, parking on a highway shoulder to play in the snow can distract other drivers and interfere with first responders who may need to use the shoulder.

Those heading to popular snow-play areas should be prepared to spend significant time on the road, as traffic at day’s end is often heavy on highways including US 180 northwest of Flagstaff. Locations of designated snow-play areas around Flagstaff are available at flagstaffarizona.org/winter or by calling 1-844-256-SNOW.

Slow down and drive for the conditions you’re in. Be sure to leave extra room between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you.

Give snowplows plenty of room to work. Avoid passing a plow until the driver pulls aside to let traffic by.

MVD: Buying a vehicle? Check its history

PHOENIX – The Arizona Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Division cautions consumers to beware of potential fraud when buying a car.

“The best defense is to do your research,” says Ralene Whitmer, MVD Title and Registration Specialist. “This is especially true for people buying vehicles from individuals. The possibility for fraud exists and it’s wise for every consumer to thoroughly look into a vehicle’s history. Reputable dealers will always be willing to provide this information, and that same standard should be expected of anyone who sells a vehicle in a private sale.”

A vehicle’s title will include information about its origin and whether it’s been stolen, water-damaged, wrecked, destroyed, or suffered other damage. In addition, some titles will be stamped “Export Only”, which means they were purchased by a dealer from out-of-state or a foreign country and they cannot be legally sold in Arizona.

“The advice from the Motor Vehicle Division is to avoid buying cars in Arizona that are stamped ‘Export Only’”, Whitmer added. “Dealers or individuals who attempt to sell vehicles with an Export Only title stamp within Arizona are breaking the law. Those vehicles can only be sold where the dealer is actually licensed. We have seen problems with this in Arizona communities that border Mexico and other U.S. states.”

Customers can get more information about title, registration and tips on buying and selling vehicles at www.azdot.gov/mvd at the Vehicle Services section.

ADOT to host Small & Disadvantaged Business Transportation Expo

PHOENIX – The Arizona Department of Transportation and partner agencies will hold an event Thursday, March 1, offering tips and tools to owners of small businesses and companies qualifying for the agency’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program.

The DBE & Small Business Transportation Expo, scheduled for 7 a.m. to noon at Glendale Civic Center, will allow attendees to learn about project opportunities, network with industry professionals and business owners and hear from transportation leaders including featured speaker ADOT Director John Halikowski. Also participating are the Phoenix Public Transit and Street Transportation departments, Valley Metro and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

ADOT’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program helps qualifying small businesses compete for contracts. The companies must be owned by individuals from socially and economically disadvantaged groups, including women and minorities.

“ADOT’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program is critical to helping to reduce barriers to entry and teaching DBEs and small businesses how to fish, thrive and survive in the transportation industry,” said Dr. Vivien Lattibeaudiere, ADOT’S Employee and Business Development Administrator. “With access to project opportunities, they can become a meaningful part of building the transportation infrastructure in our state.”

To register for this free event, visit adotdbeexpo.com.

Although the expo is geared toward Disadvantaged Business Enterprises and small businesses, it’s open to all businesses, public agencies, vendors and community partners with an interest in the transportation industry.

For more on the Expo or ADOT’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program, contact the ADOT Business Engagement and Compliance Office at 602.712.7761 or visit azdot.gov/dbe.

ADOT officers assist local law enforcement in two northern Arizona arrests

PHOENIX – In addition to protecting Arizonans and infrastructure by ensuring commercial vehicles are safe to drive on the state’s highways and have proper permits, Arizona Department of Transportation officers manning commercial ports of entry coordinate with local law enforcement agencies. That partnership paid off during the past week near St. George, Utah, and in Kingman where ADOT officers helped apprehend suspects in cases involving rape and theft.

On Sunday, an ADOT Enforcement and Compliance Division officer inspecting a semi at the St. George port of entry learned, while determining whether the driver’s commercial license was valid, that the driver, Thorpe G. Steel, was wanted in Utah for rape.

Stalling for time, the ADOT officer told Steel to wait in the port of entry office while he conducted a walk-around inspection of his truck. The officer contacted Utah State Troopers and continued to stall until a trooper arrived and arrested Steel.

On the evening of February 6, two individuals broke into a Kingman man’s home and stole his 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser and other items. Around noon February 7, two ADOT officers stationed at the Topock port of entry on I-40, heading back from training in Kingman, spotted what appeared to be the vehicle heading in the opposite direction.

Once they verified it was the vehicle, the ADOT officers contacted Kingman police dispatch as well as ADOT dispatch. Both ADOT and Kingman officers pulled the vehicle over on Stockton Hill Road, and the suspects were arrested without incident.

ADOT brings back exchange program aiding local transportation projects

PHOENIX – The Arizona Department of Transportation has brought back a program made possible under state law allowing local governments to build transportation projects faster and at a lower cost by reducing red tape associated with federal funding.

The HURF Exchange Program, taking its name from the Highway User Revenue Fund, allows ADOT to exchange State Highway Fund revenues for federal Surface Transportation Block Grant Program funds with eligible local governments. ADOT is required to administer most federally funded projects, but local governments taking part in the program can now administer projects themselves, facing fewer regulatory restrictions and requirements.

“This is a win-win for the state and local communities that would otherwise have to depend on ADOT to manage their federally funded projects,” ADOT Director John Halikowski said. “Enabling local governments to administer their own projects through the HURF Exchange Program helps reduce project costs and time to completion, and allows ADOT to focus its efforts on highway projects.”

Cities, towns and unincorporated portions of counties within a regional planning area with 200,000 or fewer residents are eligible to participate in the HURF Exchange Program. Projects must be programmed as part of the HURF Exchange Program by a region’s council of governments or metropolitan planning organization, be on the federal aid system and improve the efficiency, reliability and safety of travel. ADOT will provide State Highway Fund dollars at the rate of 90 percent of the amount of federal aid programmed for eligible projects.

ADOT will review projects qualifying for the HURF Exchange Program and consult with the Federal Highway Administration to determine which federal requirements may apply. These requirements will be the responsibility of the project sponsor to fulfill and are documented in an intergovernmental agreement.

The state Legislature authorized the program in 1997, but ADOT suspended it in 2009 due to a lack of State Highway Fund revenues. Before that, the HURF Exchange Program facilitated 145 projects with a total value exceeding $90 million.

For more information on the HURF Exchange program, please visit azdot.gov/HURFExchange.

Man nabbed by ADOT used stolen identity to open business, purchase house

PHOENIX – A Goodyear resident who used stolen identities to obtain Arizona commercial driver licenses, open a business and purchase a home was arrested thanks to Arizona Department of Transportation detectives’ use of facial recognition training and technology.

When Jose Casas, 41, visited a Motor Vehicle Division office Dec. 6 to renew his commercial driver license, the system found that his photo closely resembled two others in ADOT’s database. ADOT detectives with FBI training in facial recognition determined that all three of the photos were of Casas.

In 2007, Casas applied for an Arizona commercial driver license using a forged Illinois commercial driver license under the name of a Texas resident. He then used the stolen identity to open a trucking business, purchase vehicles for the business, and purchase personal vehicles and a house in Goodyear.

Detectives served a search warrant Feb. 7 at Casas’ Goodyear residence and arrested him. Casas was booked at the Maricopa County Fourth Avenue Jail on several counts of forgery and fraud schemes as well as mortgage fraud.

After being fingerprinted, detectives discovered that Casas had an outstanding warrant from 1996 in Illinois for failure to appear on drug charges, including delivery of narcotic drugs and possession of cocaine. He was booked as a fugitive after the state of Illinois verified the warrant.

The investigation also found that Casas had two other Arizona commercial driver licenses under stolen identities, both of which are currently under medical suspension.

This case is one more example of how facial recognition technology used by ADOT’s Office of Inspector General protects Arizonans’ identities and helps prevent fraud involving state-issued driver licenses and identification cards.

ADOT’s Office of the Inspector General investigates fraud involving driver license and identification card applications; vehicle sales by licensed and unlicensed dealers; and vehicle titles and registration. It also assists state, local and federal law enforcement agencies with investigations.

Governor Ducey appoints Sam Elters to State Transportation Board

PHOENIX – Governor Doug Ducey has appointed Sam Elters, a transportation engineer with more than 30 years of experience in planning, design, construction and operations, to serve on the Arizona State Transportation Board.

Elters, who is senior vice president and national director of transportation for Matrix Design Group Inc. of Phoenix, will serve on the seven-member panel upon confirmation by the state Senate. He will succeed Joseph E. LaRue, who served as the board’s chairman in the final year of his term.

State Transportation Board members prioritize transportation needs, projects and funding on behalf of communities throughout Arizona. Each serves a six-year term.

Elters’ transportation experience spans the public and private sectors and includes serving as the Arizona Department of Transportation’s state engineer from 2005 to 2008. He also has served as a chief engineer for the Transportation Corridor Agencies providing toll roads in Orange County, California.

Elters has been in Arizona since 1981 and has been a resident of Maricopa County since 2005.

“It is an honor and a privilege to serve on the State Transportation Board,” Elters said. “I look forward to collaborating and working with the other board members and the Arizona Department of Transportation to promote and advance transportation solutions that will energize Arizona’s economy and enhance our quality of life.”

Meanwhile, William F. Cuthbertson, a Freeport McMoRan civil engineer who is from Greenlee County’s York Valley near Duncan, has been named chairman of the State Transportation Board.

MVD makes tax time a little easier

PHOENIX – With tax season in full swing, the Arizona Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Division is taking some of the hassle out of filling out those forms for Uncle Sam.

MVD has unveiled the 2017 “Vehicle Fees / Taxes Paid” report, which is now available for free at ServiceArizona.com. This service provides vehicle owners a consolidated report on how much was paid in taxes and fees for every registered vehicle in 2017.

“This is the simplest way for customers to get this information for filing their taxes,” said MVD Stakeholder Relations Manager Jennifer Bowser-Richards. “Getting this report just takes a few minutes and it’s much easier than going into your garage, collecting all your registration forms and copying them for your tax files. It’s one more convenience that MVD provides to stay ahead of the curve serving our customers.”

For more information: azdot.gov/mvd, or ServiceArizona.com

Pony Express to ride along state highways February 7-9

PHOENIX – Motorists traveling state highways between Holbrook and the East Valley this week may see a caravan that includes Pony Express re-enactment riders carrying mail along state highways.

The 60th annual Hashknife Pony Express ride is scheduled to begin in Holbrook at 8 a.m. Wednesday, February 7, and reach Old Town Scottsdale at high noon on Friday, February 9.

On Wednesday, riders with the Navajo County Sheriff’s Posse will travel along State Route 77 south of Holbrook to SR 377 and SR 277 to reach the Heber-Overgaard post office at about 11:30 a.m. They will then travel along SR 260 to the Payson post office, arriving at about 4:45 p.m.

On Thursday, the Hashknife horsemen will ride along SR 87 from Payson to reach the Fountain Hills post office at about 3 p.m.

The final leg on Friday, from Fort McDowell to Scottsdale, will take them south on SR 87 to the Arizona Canal, where riders will head west to end the 200-mile trip at Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West.

Law enforcement officers will provide a safety escort for the riders, who will hand off the mail bags every mile of the relay route. The riders will travel along the edge of the highway or shoulder.

Motorists shouldn’t stop along the highway to photograph riders. Highway shoulders are for emergencies only.

More information on this event is available at HashknifePonyExpress.com.

Arizona’s “Conserving Wildlife” license plate benefits habitat, education and youth

PHOENIX — Arizona Sportsmen for Wildlife Conservation’s (AZSFWC) “Conserving Wildlife” license plate ended 2017 surpassing the prior year both in license plate sales and grant awards from the proceeds.

Last year, AZSFWC, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, awarded 16 different grants totaling $170,665 in funding. Putting this into perspective, it means 10,039 Conserving Wildlife license plates were purchased or renewed to fund those projects. Since 2012, the organization has awarded 100 grants totaling more than $520,900.

Every time someone purchases or renews one of these specialty license plates through the state of Arizona, AZSFWC receives $17 of the $25 cost. These funds are placed in a dedicated account and each quarter AZSFWC assesses grant proposals from qualified organizations.

Grant money benefits conservation education efforts, youth recruitment and retention, and important habitat projects. Three notable projects were landscape-scale habitat efforts requiring significant coordination by AZSFWC member organizations with other partners, including federal and state agencies (such as the Arizona Game and Fish Department), other nongovernmental organizations, private landowners, and volunteers:

  • A National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) project continues with a multi-year landscape restoration in the Pinaleno Mountains (Mt Graham) in southeastern Arizona. The Pinaleno Ecosystem Restoration Project will reduce dense timber stands in this part of the Coronado National Forest and will directly benefit both Gould’s turkeys as well as the endangered Mount Graham red squirrel. This project began in 2013 and is projected to continue through 2020.
  • An Arizona Elk Society (AES) project is another long-term, landscape-scale habitat effort in the Coconino National Forest near Clints Well in north-central Arizona. The Long Valley Meadow Restoration Project has several partners restoring a forest meadow as well as enhancing the drainage, water table and waterway.
  • An Arizona Deer Association (ADA) project is a landscape-scale habitat project near Payson in the Tonto National Forest. The Round Valley Grassland Restoration will remove juniper and other woody plants that have taken over former grasslands. The project will begin in 2018.

To see a list of past grant recipients and funded projects, visit http://azsfwc.org/license-plate-fund-projects/.

Arizona residents can purchase a Conserving Wildlife license plate at http://servicearizona.com/.