They are everywhere in Dunn County. Large, loud, traffic-congesting big rigs wending their way across our roads.
By PAT MERRIMAN
For the DC Herald
North Dakota Load Restrictions Chart
By Legal Weight 8 – Ton 7 – Ton 6 – Ton 5 – Ton
Single Axle 20,000 lbs. 16,000 lbs. 14,000 lbs. 12,000 lbs. 10,000 lbs.
Tandem Axle 34,000 lbs. 32,000 lbs. 28,000 lbs. 24,000 lbs. 20,000 lbs.
3 Axle Group or more per Axle 17,000 lbs. 14,000 lbs. 12,000 lbs. 10,000 lbs. 10,000 lbs.
Max. Axle Group 48,000 lbs. – not to exceed this gross weight on divisible loads 42,000 lbs. – not to exceed this gross weight on divisible loads 36,000 lbs. – not to exceed this gross weight on divisible loads 30,000 lbs. – not to exceed this gross weight on divisible loads 30,000 lbs. – not to exceed this gross weight on divisible loads
Gross Weight 105,500 lbs. 105,500 lbs. 105,500 lbs. 80,000 lbs. 80,000 lbs.
They are everywhere in Dunn County. Large, loud, traffic-congesting big rigs wending their way across our roads. And, on a blustery Saturday morning, North Dakota Motor Carrier Operations Troopers Dan Krueger, Gerald Baumgartner and Mike Hinrichs worked diligently, at the North Dakota Dept. of Transportation facility in Killdeer (just north of the roundabout), weighing and inspecting big rigs–including their safety equipment and driver logs. Not even stopping during their 8-10 hour shift for lunch, the agents even brought their own propane grill to cook lunch, hot dogs, and business was brisk as a seemingly never-ending stream of the big rigs pulled onto temporary scales, were weighed & inspected and sent on their way, unfortunately, often with a citation for violating North Dakota’s restrictions on overweight trucks.
A somewhat complicated issue, North Dakota has both statutory law regarding trucks, tandems, maximum length/weight, etc. (Chapter 37-06, NDCC) and state regulations that pertain to state roads and highways (including special restrictions on bridges) while counties also have load limits that pertain to non-paved roads too (see, www.ndenergy.org/rcr/Restrictions.aspx). In general, the following chart applies:
The NDHP’s Motor Carrier Operations consists of two commanders, two sergeants, eight sworn troopers, an administrative assistant and 11 civilian inspectors. All of these positions are part of the federally-funded Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP). MCSAP is tasked with both reducing commercial vehicle crashes nationwide, by performing commercial vehicle inspections, safety audits, compliance reviews and insuring that appropriate permits and weight restrictions are met. For more information about the NDHP or MCSAP programs, see, www.nd.gov/ndhp/motor-carrier.
We have previously reported on the road hazard to other drivers posed by overweight trucks themselves, but, just exactly how much damage to North Dakota roads and bridges occur as a result of overweight trucks who are trying to cheat the system by hauling more than the maximum allowed? The subject was explored by USA Today, in Overweight trucks damage infrastructure by April Castro (September 27, 2007) . Seven years ago, more than one-half million trucks were traveling this nation’s roads and bridges and the problem was increasing as professional drivers routinely ignored weight restrictions to make the almighty dollar. Some states were even exacerbating the problem by allowing so-called Overweight Permits that were doing little more than allowing more load to national infrastructure (the majority built during the Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways in the 1950’s) than it was allowed to carry–a phenomenon that experts claim weakens steel and concrete which was touted as a cause of the Minneapolis bridge collapse on August 1, 2007, that killed 13 people and, the collapse of a bridge outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 2000. “We talk about this all the time and the fear that we have is that we’re going to have the same sort of disaster here that happened in Minnesota,” said Don Lee, executive director of the Texas Conference of Urban Counties.
To understand the problem is simple. Under federal law, 23 USC 127, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation sets the maximum weight for the national interstate highway system (any highway which receives any federal money for repair/maintenance). The weight limit for nearly all interstate highways is 80,000 pounds. One “legal” truck, then, according to our federal government, causes as much damage as 9,600 cars. But, that pertains to “legal” weight and ignores the damage caused by overweight state permits frequently allowing big rigs to exceed the federal recommendation by as little as 4,000 lbs. (Texas) and 170,000 lbs. (Nevada). A particularly dangerous problem in oil/gas-producing and logging states where the state legislature’s emphasis is getting the product on the road to market to stimulate tax revenue. And, frankly, issuing overweight permits to facilitate that goal.
In particular, engineers liken the effect of heavy trucks on a bridge to bending a paper clip–it bends again and again until it eventually breaks. But, aren’t these trucking company’s already “paying more than their fair share” to repair roads as claimed by some in their industry? Not according to government studies in other states. “That in no way [permit fees] even comes close to covering the wear and tear on our roads and bridges in this state,” said Chris Lippincott, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation. In 2007, states allowed more than 500,000 overweight trucks to travel the nation’s highway infrastructure and, most of those permits were good for an entire year. The total? More than 1.8 million short-term permits were not included in the USA/AP count in 2007. The estimate today, seven years later, does not bode well for the traveling public.
The mentality of the overweight drivers, a common refrain on law day in Manning, was expressed by Eric Lockwood in the USA Today story. A driver who routinely exceeded the weight limits by carrying 42 tons of hot oil “all over Texas” and had a state-issued overweight-load permit, “From what I understand, the way those bridges are engineered and built — even the ones that do have a weight limit on them — you can grossly exceed that weight limit without having a problem,” Lockwood said, “That’s what I’ve heard. I don’t know what the truth is.” In fact, a common problem too, Lockwood’s Texas state permit did not allow him to even travel on an interstate highway, but he said he does so anyway “about half of the time”. When he gets ticketed, his company just pays the fine. Easy peasy! The money to be made breaking the law (and endangering the public) by hauling more than allowed easily made up for the rare overweight ticket and fine by overworked law enforcement.
In Colorado (like North Dakota), Ms. Castro reported that truckers are simply given a map with their overweight permits showing how much weight bridges around the state can handle. Drivers then operate on the honor system, and Colorado state officials said they had no way of knowing if drivers are taking bridges appropriate for their loads. Castro also noted that a 2007 federal finding estimated that “18% of the nation’s bridges either do not have weight limits posted or incorrectly calculated the weight limits that are posted. Also, a federal study last year classified 26% of the nation’s bridges as either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete”. Suffice it to say that a new variable has been added to the already over-burdened law enforcement effort in the oil patch and, it is time for the eastern half of North Dakota to step up and help, rather than hinder, the process, particularly, on our paved roads and highways.