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Key Highway Safety Funds At Risk Delays In Congress Imperil Road Improvements, Aaa Officials Warn At Their Annual Conference

The West is in jeopardy of losing its share of $6.5 billion in federal funds to implement crucial highway safety standards, according to AAA officials.

If Congress does not approve the National Highway Safety System Act by its self-imposed deadline of Oct. 1, 159,000 miles of interstate roads may not receive safety improvements.

States may be unable to widen shoulders, replace crash cushions and install median barriers, said David Willis, executive director for the American Automobile Association’s Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Although all states could suffer increased fatalities and driving casualties, the impact will be heaviest in the West. Roads here tend to be rougher than in the East and need more money for maintenance, Willis said at the 68th annual Western Conference of the American Automobile Association/Canadian Automobile Association.

“The West has higher population growth and lots of plans for safety standards, but it lacks funding for highway improvements relative to the East and Midwest,” Willis said Tuesday.

If Congress does not approve the highway act, several Eastern Washington projects will be curtailed, said Jerry Lenzi, regional administrator for the Washington State Department of Transportation.

Repaving U.S. Highway 395, improving Harvard Road in the Valley and retrofitting of a highway near Four Lakes will all be put on hold without federal funding, Lenzi said Tuesday.

The AAA/CAA conference, which attracted executives from motor clubs in 18 states and provinces, ends today at the Sheraton-Spokane Hotel. The AAA/CAA, which insures motorists and provides emergency roadside service, represents 37 million members in North America.

In addition to the National Highway Safety System Act, Willis touted another AAA/CAA-sponsored campaign: ridding roads of drowsy drivers. By some estimates, 50 percent of highway fatalities result from drivers who fall asleep.

Road-tripping college students are at high risk for falling asleep at the wheel, Willis said. But the most dangerous driving scenario involves families that depart for vacation after spouses come home from a long day at work.

“It’s a recipe for disaster,” Willis said. Instead, he recommended sleeping at home and getting an early start.

, DataTimes