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April 24, 2020 2:15 PM, EDT

Midwest States Join Forces on COVID-19 Response

I-70 in MissouriTraffic on I-70 in Columbia, Mo. (Missouri Department of Transportation)

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In response to the coronavirus pandemic, members of the Mid America Association of State Transportation Officials have collaborated to ease restrictions on freight haulers.

The association, called MAASTO, is a regional group that operates under the umbrella of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

MAASTO’s members include: Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri and Ohio.

MAASTO officials announced April 21 that its members were coordinating strategies to keep the supply chain of goods and services intact during the pandemic. Midwestern states facilitate some key east-west freight corridors, such as interstates 70 and 80.

“Meeting the challenge of the pandemic will require that we can get vital goods like food and medical supplies where they are needed,” said MAASTO President Craig Thompson, who also serves as secretary-designee of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. “These supply chains don’t stop at state borders. We need to be working with other states, especially our neighbors in the middle of the country, to make sure we do what is needed to remove barriers that would impede response and recovery.”

Specifically, the MAASTO member states are working together to permit overweight truckloads, making it easier for haulers to carry crucial supplies. Many states are also relaxing requirements for license and registration renewals in order to reduce the number of people making trips to departments of motor vehicles.

Additionally, states are issuing guidance to contractors so they can keep workers safe while proceeding with construction. In Wisconsin, for example, transportation officials are increasing sanitation measures at work zones, practicing social distancing and conducting meetings over the phone.

“As departments of transportation around the country work to keep the nation’s transportation system functional, it is now more important than ever that we reach out and collaborate and learn from each other,” said Patrick McKenna, director of the Missouri Department of Transportation and president of AASHTO. “Our weekly calls with the MAASTO states are helping each state better serve the public while keeping safety as a primary objective.”

Missouri transportation officials have kept interstate highway rest areas open to members of the traveling public and commercial motor carriers during the pandemic.

Some states, such as Indiana, have launched programs to allow licensed food trucks to operate at highway rest areas in order to serve commercial motor vehicle drivers who are hauling supplies during the pandemic. With restaurants closing due to the virus, truck drivers in many cases are finding limited availability of food options.

“Because of the evolving nature of the public health emergency, our work with the other MAASTO states helps us problem-solve and work toward a unified solution to the supply chain challenges,” said Julie Lorenz, MAASTO vice president and secretary of the Kansas Department of Transportation. “The emergency isn’t happening in a vacuum. We have a responsibility to support each other today and set a good path for recovery in the future.”

The coordinated coronavirus response is not the first effort the MAASTO states have joined forces on. Eight of the member states — Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin — launched a system to inform truckers about parking availability on interstate highways in early 2019.

The program, called Trucks Park Here, is a shared truck parking information management system that offers up-to-the-minute data on how many spaces are available at certain rest areas.

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