Buckle up: No major funding increase for fixing Missouri’s roads, bridges

Summer is approaching, a time when Missouri residents hit the road for a little rest and relaxation. It might be a rougher-than-expected journey, though, as legislators aren’t making transportation projects a priority during the 2017 session.

In the meantime, the Missouri Department of Transportation is using a reserve fund to maintain the state’s roads and bridges — money that’s supposed to go toward emergencies and natural disasters. MoDOT chief engineer Ed Hassinger said it’s not an issue right now, but will be if the department has to draw from it for another three years.

“Fatalities on our roadway system are up, and there are a lot of safety improvements that we’re just not able to get to that we would like to be able to get to,” he said. “That doesn’t even talk about the projects to spur economic development, people that want new interchanges to spur business or things that we need to do to reduce congestion in our major urban centers.”

Missouri has the seventh largest highway system in the United States, and the cost of maintaining it has increased while the money Missouri sees from its 17.3 cents per gallon fuel tax — close to the bottom in the nation —hasn’t.

Two years ago, transportation commissioners moved to a drastically reduced maintenance plan. Only 8,000 miles of roads would be fully maintained, and the remaining 26,000 would only see pothole repairs and snow removal.

It was  scrapped due to the passage of the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, or FAST Act, but the $1 billion in federal money isn’t enough for Missouri to afford to take on any major transportation projects, only maintain its full 34,000 miles of roads.

The future of roads

The state, however, has  virtually nothing to put toward planning for and contracting out new projects. Plus, there are no plans on how to improve Interstate 70, which runs the length of the state and is very popular; roughly 75,000 vehicles a day drove along some part of I-70 in the St. Louis area in 2015.

Hassinger calls I-70 the poster child for Missouri’s transportation funding woes, but warned there’s more to consider.

“It’s really not just I-70; I-44 is not that far behind,” he said. “It’s a huge issue, because the interstates are where commerce moves in this state, that’s where freight moves, that’s how we efficiently move people and services around the state, so it’s a critical part of our system that we really need to figure out how we’re going to reconstruct that.”

Two options to help pay for I-70 have been floated and roundly rejected by lawmakers in recent years: raising the state’s fuel tax and turning I-70 into a toll road.

But most of the GOP-majority legislature considers toll roads to be another form of taxation. Republican Rep. Bryan Spencer of Wentzville recently wrote an op-ed piece for the Missouri Times explaining his opposition to them, and Republicans have gone so far as to propose a ban in the state budget on the use of state or federal money for “any costs associated with the tolling of interstate highways.”

Neither option is ideal for various special interests, from the trucking industry to local governments, according to lobbyist Leonard Toenjes, the president of Associated General Contractors of Missouri.

“All these different special interest groups just keep us in sort of a circular firing squad situation, where we continue to keep the guns aimed inward while other states — Iowa, Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas — all continue to make investments in their systems,” Toenjes said.

Contractors feel the pinch, too

Putting more money toward roads and bridges could help minority-owned businesses, said Lionel Phillips. He runs Phillips Concrete Services in St. Louis, and said he’s never received a contract from MoDOT.

“I put it on myself, I don’t put it on anybody else,” he said. “I can’t put it on contractors, whatever, because the name of the game is having a competitive bid, but if there’s more opportunities to bid, I’ll figure out how to get selected.”

Even big contractors are feeling neglected. Chip Jones with Emory Sapp and Sons, which does road and bridge construction for several states including Missouri, said the company has only five contracts here this year.

“We can usually handle anywhere, depending on the size of the project, (from) five to 15 easily,” he said. “Unfortunately the size of the projects were more of a maintain (type), so it’s just piecemealing the existing infrastructure, (and) so the size and the scope is way down.”

Jones said he understands why lawmakers and voters don’t want to raise taxes, but believes better roads are a highway for growth in other critical areas.

“Sometimes I think people want the education before the highways, but I truly believe if you go look at other states, once the highway program is in place, the businesses come, then the improvement in living, and the schools improve as well,” he said.

Some lawmakers filed major transportation funding bills in January, but nearly all have gone nowhere, and aren’t likely to see action with only three weeks left in session.

I-70_near_Rochesport
Interstate 70 near Rochesport, Missouri.
CREDIT COURTESY OF THE MISSOURI DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
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May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month

Motorcycle riders are encouraged to ‘Get Trained and Ride Safe’ while other road users are encouraged to share the road safely, for Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month in May.

Motorcyclists have the same rights as any other vehicle driver on the roads. This means they are entitled to their space on the road, despite the size of their vehicles. During Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month – and throughout the rest of the year – drivers of all other vehicles are reminded to ‘share the road’ with motorcyclists, and to be extra alert to help keep motorcyclists safe.

Across the United States, law enforcement will be conducting special enforcement operations during the month. Extra officers will be patrolling areas frequented by motorcyclists and where motorcycle crashes occur. Officers will be looking for violations made by drivers and riders that can lead to motorcycle crashes. They will be cracking down on both those operating regular vehicles and motorcycles who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, speeding, making illegal turns, or any other dangerous violation.

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COLUMBIA — A flash flood warning was issued for six counties Saturday afternoon, including Boone County, by the National Weather Service following storms.

Two to 3 inches of rain had already fallen across the counties between late Friday night and Saturday afternoon, according to a bulletin from the National Weather Service. Up to 2 additional inches could fall through Saturday evening.

More than 20 roads were closed Saturday afternoon in Boone County because of flooding, according to the Boone County Office of Emergency Management’s website.

Updated Information:

This article was updated at 5:30 p.m. to include that Gov. Eric Greitens declared a state of emergency.

The weather service urged motorists to avoid driving through flooded roadways.

Gov. Eric Greitens declared a state of emergency on Saturday evening in an executive order. The State Emergency Management Agency, Missouri State Highway Patrol, Missouri National Guard, and Missouri’s Task Force 1 Rescue Unit were deployed to assist in relief efforts, Greitens said in a news release.

There had been 93 evacuations and 33 rescues throughout the state by Saturday evening, Greitens said the release.

Heavy rain is expected to continue through Sunday, and a flash flood watch is in effect until Monday morning. Rainfall totals could reach 3 to 5 inches, according to the weather service.

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MoDOT News Release 

MoDOT Customer Service, 1-888-ASK-MODOT (275-6636)

May 01, 2017 03:44 PM

Major Road Closures Will Affect Tuesday Morning Commutes
Check Conditions On Traveler Information Map

JEFFERSON CITY – Heavy rains over the weekend still have more than 300 roads closed across the state. Currently Interstate 44 is closed between Rolla and Lebanon and is not expected to reopen until mid to late week. Travelers need to make plans to find alternate routes around these closures for work and school commutes on Tuesday morning. Motorists should check Missouri’s Traveler Information Map at www.modot.org before traveling.

I-44 in St. Louis County is expected to close after evening rush on Monday and remain closed for the rest of week. The full interstate closure distance is from I-270 to Route 100. Only local traffic will be allowed westbound past I-270 to Bowles along with one eastbound lane of I-44 to Pacific, Eureka and Route 109.

Travelers headed across Missouri should avoid using I-44 due to the closures in St. Louis and between Rolla and Lebanon. Please use Interstate 70 between St. Louis and Kansas City and then use Interstate 435 to Interstate 49 to Joplin to reconnect to Interstate 44.

The following are some of the major routes that will be closed and affect Tuesday morning’s commute:

  • I-44 between Rolla and Lebanon
  • I-44 in St. Louis County will close overnight
  • Route 141 at I-44 in St. Louis County
  • Route 30/Gravois in St. Louis County at Meramec River will close overnight
  • Route 21/Tesson Ferry in St. Louis County at Meramec River will close overnight
  • Route 109 in Eureka in St. Louis County will close overnight
  • Route 63 near Vienna, between Rolla and Jefferson City
  • Route 50 at Mount Sterling in Gasconade County

 

Most of the major routes are not expected to reopen until late in the week due to rising waters on the major rivers. Updates will be provided to the public as major routes continue to close.

Motorists are reminded that not all flooded roads will have closure signs. MoDOT cautions all travelers to never drive through water on the roadway. Turn around and find an alternate route. Remember the slogan, “Turn Around, Don’t Drown.” Flash flooding is particularly dangerous at night or the early morning hours when motorists often cannot see they are driving into floodwaters until it’s too late. Less than a foot of moving water is enough to push a vehicle.

When the water recedes, MoDOT will inspect the pavement and bridges for safety before opening the roadways for public use.

Missourians should take these precautions in areas affected by flooding:

  • Low water crossings are among the most dangerous spots. Never attempt to cross one that is flooded.
  • Never drive past a barricade closing flooded roads. They are there to protect you.
  • Never expect barriers to block off flooded low-water crossings, bridges or roads because flash flood waters often rise so quickly authorities do not have time to respond.
  • If your vehicle becomes stuck in rising water, get out quickly and move to higher ground because rapidly rising water may engulf the vehicle and sweep it away.
  • In the rain, if your wipers are in use your headlights should be on too. It’s the law.            You can also call 1-888-ASK-MoDOT (275-6636) for up-to-date information.
  •             Check MoDOT’s Traveler Information Map to stay current on all flooding closures at http://traveler.modot.org/map/. The map is also available as a free app on iTunes and Google play listed as MoDOT Traveler Information.
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U.S. DOT campaign urges motorists to stop at railroad crossings

U.S. DOT campaign urges motorists to stop at railroad crossings

U.S. DOT campaign urges motorists to stop at railroad crossings

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has launched a campaign aimed at young male motorists, urging them to make the right choice at railroad crossings.

The campaign, named “Stop! Trains Can’t”, is the latest in a two-year effort by the DOT to reduce incidents, and ultimately fatalities, at railroad crossings around the country. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) have partnered on the nationwide effort.

Although rail incidents have declined over the last 10 years, railroad crossing fatalities spiked in 2014. Last year alone, 232 people died in railroad crossing accidents, and approximately every three hours, a person or vehicle is hit by a train in the United States.

“Too many people are still taking unnecessary risks and needlessly paying with their lives,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “These deaths are preventable, and this ad campaign is a reminder for everyone that ignoring signage at railroad crossings or attempting to race or beat a train can have deadly consequences.”

The $7-million media campaign targets males ages 18 to 49-years-old in states where the nation’s 15 most dangerous crossings are located, as well as the states that had 75 percent of the crossing incidents in 2015. The ad will run in the following states: California, Illinois, Texas, Louisiana, Indiana, Ohio, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Mississippi, New Jersey, Arkansas and Arizona.

“Your life is worth more than a few saved minutes, and trying to outrun a train isn’t worth the risk,” said NHTSA Administrator Dr. Mark Rosekind. “When a train is coming, the only choice is to stop. Trains can’t.”

By law, trains always have the right of way because they cannot swerve, stop quickly or change directions to avert collisions. A freight train travelling at 55 mph takes a mile—the length of 18 football fields or more— to come to a stop even with the emergency brake applied.

U.S. DOT campaign urges motorists to stop at railroad crossings

For more information on the “Stop! Trains Can’t” campaign, visit www.transportation.gov/stop-trains-cant

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Missouri survey finds teen safety belt use is on the up

Seat-belt-1068x580

The 2016 Missouri Teen Safety Belt Survey is complete. The safety belt usage for all teenage drivers and teenage front seat passengers combined was 70.4 per cent. This is a 1.4 per cent increase when compared to 69 per cent in 2015.

“We’re very excited to see these numbers go up,” said MoDOT Youth Program Coordinator Kacey Buschjost. “Teenagers are our most inexperienced and vulnerable drivers, so it’s vital that they, and all drivers, be buckled up every trip, every time.”

The Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety promotes several programs to educate young drivers on the importance of roadway safety. The following programs can attribute to the increase in safety belt usage in Missouri.

First Impact is a traffic safety program that educates parents about Missouri’s Graduated Driver License (GDL) law and provides the tools they need to monitor, coach and support their new teen driver. Missouri GDL law is a three-step licensing system. The purpose is to ease teens into licensure so that they can build skill in an environment that minimizes those things that are shown to cause the greatest risk for new drivers. Research confirms that GDL laws have been instrumental in reducing teen crashes by 20 to 40 percent.

The It Only Takes One campaign is a competition between Missouri high schools that gives student groups the opportunity to educate teens, parents and their community about the dangers teens face while driving. The competition includes educational campaigns, surprise safety belt surveys and the creation of a public service announcement. It’s important that teen drivers realize it only takes one text, one drink, one call, one reach, one distraction to cause one fatal moment. But, that one clicked seat belt could be the difference between life and death in a car crash.

Team Spirit is a statewide youth traffic safety leadership training program committed to empowering youth to promote safe driving habits. After an initial training session, Team Spirit youth create and implement action plans for their school and community in an effort to reduce death and serious injury resulting from traffic crashes. Team Spirit is available to all schools in Missouri.

Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for youth (15-20) in Missouri, accounting for nearly 11.8 per cent of traffic fatalities during the last three years. Many factors including inexperience, alcohol, speeding, cell phones, and other countless distractions all contribute to these crashes, with many resulting in death. A safety belt is the best defense in a traffic crash. Buckle up and ARRIVE ALIVE.

For more information on highway safety or any of the programs offered, please visit savemolives.com.

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Glass Repair & Replacement

Auto glass replacement and repair are performed for different levels and locations of damage on vehicle glass. Very mild damage, such as short cracks that don’t penetrate the glass, may be repairable with injection of a transparent resin into the crack. If damage is located near the edges of glass replacement may be required, since the damage there is more prone to spreading. Cracks that are longer or that penetrate the glass are likely to require replacement.

There are many reasons to receive auto glass repair or replacement promptly after damage occurs. Even if the damage is minor, it can spread quickly because of temperature changes, road vibrations, and additional impacts. Damaged auto glass can also be dangerous in an accident. Weakened by the damage, the glass is less able to prevent collapse of the cabin and can more easily break and injure occupants.

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Missouri Pothole Patrol

At the Missouri Department of Transportation, the arrival of spring means crews turn their attention to the potholes that “spring” forth as temperatures change. The department has initiated “Missouri Pothole Patrol,” which is a concentrated effort to patch potholes and keep highways smooth and safe for motorists.

MoDOT has dedicated staff and resources to repair minor road damage quickly, but motorists need to help the department spot these potholes and let us know where they are.

There are several ways for you to report potholes:

• MoDOT’s Customer Service Center, available 24/7, at 1-888-ASK-MODOT (888-275-6636).

• Online – from your computer go to Report a Road Concern.

• Mobile  On your smartphone or tablet go to www.modot.org/roadconcern 

  (note: this site is formatted for mobile devices!)

 By e-mail: comments@modot.mo.gov

MoDOT’s rapid response pothole repair is only a temporary fix. Once the weather warms up, the temporary patches will be replaced with permanent repairs.

Potholes form when temperatures warm up during the day but continue to be cold at night. Moisture from winter rain and snow constantly seeps into the cracks and joints of the roadway. When the temperatures drop at night, that water freezes and expands the pavement, which causes it to crack and bulge. As cars and trucks drive over those cracks, the pressure causes chunks of pavement to pop out, and potholes are formed.

MoDOT is responsible for all state-maintained highways in Missouri. Potholes and other damage on city and county streets should be reported to the appropriate local agency. If you aren’t sure if a road is maintained by MoDOT, give the customer service center a call and one of MoDOT’s customer service representatives can tell you.

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Winter Driving Tips

Severe weather can be both frightening and dangerous for automobile travel. Motorists should know the safety rules for dealing with winter road emergencies. AAA reminds motorists to be cautious while driving in adverse weather. For more information on winter driving, the association offers the How to Go on Ice and Snow brochure, available through most AAA offices. Contact your local AAA club for more information.

AAA recommends the following winter driving tips:

  • Avoid driving while you’re fatigued. Getting the proper amount of rest before taking on winter weather tasks reduces driving risks.
  • Never run a vehicle in an enclosed area, such as a garage.
  • Make certain your tires are properly inflated.
  • Keep your gas tank at least half full.
  • If possible, avoid using your parking brake in cold, rainy and snowy weather.
  • Do not use cruise control when driving on any slippery surface (wet, ice, sand).
  • Always look and steer where you want to go.
  • Use your seat belt every time you get into your vehicle.

Tips for long-distance winter trips:

  • Watch weather reports prior to a long-distance drive or before driving in isolated areas. Delay trips when especially bad weather is expected. If you must leave, let others know your route, destination and estimated time of arrival.
  • Always make sure your vehicle is in peak operating condition by having it inspected by a AAA Approved Auto Repair facility.
  • Keep at least half a tank of gasoline in your vehicle at all times.
  • Pack a cellular telephone with your local AAA’s telephone number, plus blankets, gloves, hats, food, water and any needed medication in your vehicle.
  • If you become snow-bound, stay with your vehicle. It provides temporary shelter and makes it easier for rescuers to locate you. Don’t try to walk in a severe storm. It’s easy to lose sight of your vehicle in blowing snow and become lost.
  • Don’t over exert yourself if you try to push or dig your vehicle out of the snow.
  • Tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna or place a cloth at the top of a rolled up window to signal distress. At night, keep the dome light on if possible. It only uses a small amount of electricity and will make it easier for rescuers to find you.
  • Make sure the exhaust pipe isn’t clogged with snow, ice or mud. A blocked exhaust could cause deadly carbon monoxide gas to leak into the passenger compartment with the engine running.
  • Use whatever is available to insulate your body from the cold. This could include floor mats, newspapers or paper maps.
  • If possible run the engine and heater just long enough to remove the chill and to conserve gasoline.

Tips for driving in the snow:

  • Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Applying the gas slowly to accelerate is the best method for regaining traction and avoiding skids. Don’t try to get moving in a hurry. And take time to slow down for a stoplight. Remember: It takes longer to slow down on icy roads.
  • Drive slowly. Everything takes longer on snow-covered roads. Accelerating, stopping, turning – nothing happens as quickly as on dry pavement. Give yourself time to maneuver by driving slowly.
  • The normal dry pavement following distance of three to four seconds should be increased to eight to ten seconds. This increased margin of safety will provide the longer distance needed if you have to stop.
  • Know your brakes. If you have anti-lock brakes (ABS) and need to slow down quickly, press hard on the pedal-it’s normal for the pedal to vibrate a bit when the ABS is activated.
  • Don’t stop if you can avoid it. There’s a big difference in the amount of inertia it takes to start moving from a full stop versus how much it takes to get moving while still rolling. If you can slow down enough to keep rolling until a traffic light changes, do it.
  • Don’t power up hills. Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads just starts your wheels spinning. Try to get a little inertia going before you reach the hill and let that inertia carry you to the top. As you reach the crest of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed down hill as slowly as possible.
  • Don’t stop going up a hill. There’s nothing worse than trying to get moving up a hill on an icy road. Get some inertia going on a flat roadway before you take on the hill.
  • Stay home. If you really don’t have to go out, don’t. Even if you can drive well in the snow, not everyone else can. Don’t tempt fate: If you don’t have somewhere you have to be, watch the snow from indoors.
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Winter Driving Tips: How to Drive in the Snow

In a perfect world, all roads would be dry and untrafficked. But in the real world, drivers face a wide variety of weather conditions, and when snow is added to the mix, the potential for automotive disaster can increase exponentially.
Whether you venture to the ski slopes once in a blue moon or spend six months of every year in snowy climes, we’ve assembled a few crucial points to remember while braving snow-covered roads. Follow these tips, and you might even look forward to cold weather driving!
Slow, Turn, Go!
Dynamically speaking, a car can only do three things: accelerate, turn and brake. While it’s possible to combine those commands from the behind the wheel, vehicles are far easier to control when those actions are performed separately. Let’s say you’re approaching a sharp bend on a snowy road: first, gently apply the brakes in advance of the turn. After taking your foot off the brake, coast through the corner while turning the wheel. Only after you’ve exited the turn and straightened the steering wheel, gently accelerate. “As easy as that sounds intellectually, it’s really hard for most people to put into practice,” says Mark Cox, Director of the Bridgestone Winter Driving School.
Limit Your Speed, and Think Ahead
Excessive speed is the single biggest reason people lose control in the snow, and slowing down will give you enough wiggle room to correct your course in case your vehicle loses control. “It takes 4 to 10 times longer to stop in ice and snow,” explains Cox. “Adjust your speed to the conditions,” he adds, “but also remember that going too slow can be just as problematic as going too fast.”
If You Start to Slide…
… don’t panic! A proper response will ensure that car control is regained. If the vehicle oversteers (i.e., the back end swings out), accelerate lightly in order to transfer weight to the rear and increase traction. It may feel counterintuitive to press the gas pedal while a car is sliding, but that action can straighten out the tail-happy yawing motion. Conversely, if the car understeers (i.e., slides forward without turning), straightening the steering and gently touching the brakes will shift more weight over the front wheels and enable the tires to “bite” again. As with all winter driving maneuvers, using a gentle hand and not stabbing the gas, brake or steering wheel is the most effective way to recover from a slide.
Humans tend to target fixate. Couple that with the natural reflex to go where you’re looking, and it’s no wonder so many out-of-control cars head straight into curbs and lampposts. By training yourself to look where you want to go, your hands will follow your eyes and steer away from danger.
Smooth and Easy Wins the Race
Race drivers swear by smoothness when it comes to driving technique, and that practice becomes even more important in wintry conditions. “Pretend you’ve got a cup of coffee on the dashboard,” advises Matt Edmonds, Vice President of TireRack.com. “If you make sudden or abrupt movements, you’ll go from grip to no grip very quickly.” On the other hand, “[smooth inputs] will help you sense the limits of your tire’s grip before your car starts to slide.”
Know Your Limits and Your Car’s Limits
Becoming familiar with your car’s handling dynamics will prepare you for the unexpected. When the going gets slippery, does your car understeer (plow forward), oversteer (fishtail) or drift sideways? Weight distribution, suspension and drivetrain setups (like front-, rear- or all-wheel drive) affects how your car reacts to adverse conditions. If you can’t attend a driving school and learn about vehicle dynamics from the pros, carefully explore your car’s limits in a safe area like an abandoned parking lot. Once your sense memory develops, you’ll be better prepared to handle a slide when it arrives unannounced.
Don’t Rely Too Much on Technology
Electronic aids like anti-lock brakes and traction control have done wonders for vehicle safety, but icy conditions can render those features useless. Once a tire loses its mechanical grip on a slick surface, all the high-tech gizmos in the world won’t stop that vehicle from spinning out of control. Avoid the inescapable laws of physics by keeping your speed reasonable and maintaining a safe distance from cars and objects around you.
Pick Your Tires Like You’d Pick Your Shoes
“Some shoes are good at everything, but not great at one thing,” says Edmonds. Following that logic, you wouldn’t wear flip-flops in the rain—and likewise, you shouldn’t drive through winter snow on summer tires. Edmonds advises looking for the international symbol for winter tires, which is a snowflake on a mountain. A number of winter tire varieties exist; snowbelt states call for dedicated winter rubber which is referred to as a “studless ice and snow tire,” featuring more aggressive tread and deeper blocks. In regions where snow falls more occasionally, you might opt for so-called performance winter tires, which offer better grip under dry conditions.
A Question of Chains
Unless the law demands it, avoid installing chains and choose instead to invest in a solid set of winter tires. As it stands, winter tires are so effective that several provinces in Canada actually make it a legal requirement to install them during certain months of the year. California is the last U.S. state that requires chains on mountain passes, and those regulations may someday be eliminated.
Keep Your Car Maintained
A reliably running car can help avoid a world of complications in inclement weather. Make sure your tire pressure hasn’t dipped with the drop in ambient temperature, and your vehicle will be easier to control as a result. Install winter wiper blades in order to maximize visibility, and test your battery to make sure it can handle the challenges of cold weather cranking. Take care of your car, and it will take care of you.
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