AUSTIN (KXAN) — Stepping on the scale. Checking your weight. For many people, if you can avoid it – you do. In Texas, it is easy for semitrucks to do the same – bypassing weigh stations along our highways. Most of them are closed a majority of the time because the Department of Public Safety cannot afford to man them.
Truck driver Ben Handley said the inspection site just north of San Marcos was the first one he had seen open on Interstate 35 all day. The green light meant he was required to exit and drive over a giant scale so that the Texas Department of Public Safety could inspect the weight of his truck and cargo.
“I’m sure they can’t keep them open 24/7,” Handley said. “Some of them are. Some of them aren’t.”
When they “aren’t,” it allows overweight trucks to skirt the law and do damage by putting too much strain on your roads. The Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences says an 80,000-pound truck does as much road damage as 9,600 cars.
If pavement is designed to last 30 years, the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials says trucks weighing just five percent over the legal limit would force the state to replace that road 5 1/2 years earlier than it should, which might mean spending more of your tax dollars faster on maintenance instead of something like the traffic you’re sitting in every day.”
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said that kind of damage means spending more of your tax dollars faster on maintenance instead of something like the traffic you are sitting in every day. That is why, before he leaves office next week, he is pushing a plan to pump millions into the state’s weigh station system – which already does a lot with the limited resources available.
“When you look at how much money you can save with maintenance by not tearing up the roads you just built for billions of dollars, it’s a no-brainer,” Dewhurst said.
In the last three years, DPS weighed 75,630 trucks, ticketing 61,184 drivers for overweight violations. Dewhurst said more inspections would mean less highway damage and more money for other transportation problems.
So he worked with DPS on an extra budget request this legislative session — $91.7 million for upgrades to existing stations and 203 full-time workers to man those sites and expand commercial vehicle enforcement across the state. Most of those new workers would be DPS troopers.
“(Let’s) make sure we’ve got our weigh stations manned not just ten hours a week or 40 hours a week but 24/7, 365 days a year,” he added.
While sitting on a scale might take more time for truckers like Handley, he said it beats bad roads, repair work and more time sitting in traffic – for everyone.
“It’s not fun for us, either,” he laughed.
KXAN has learned that one of the brand new inspection stations in the DPS proposal would be in Hays County. There is no timeframe for that construction yet, because the request must first be approved during lawmakers’ budget process over the next five months.
If approved, this budget move might not only save the state money in repairs, it could also catch more mechanical problems for truck drivers which might mean saving more lives.
State numbers show 1,137 crashes on Texas highways related to oversized trucks in 2011. Four people died, and another 30 were injured.
Going high-tech on the highway
The Texas Trucking Association, a trade organization advocating for truck-related public policies, education and training across the state, has worked with the Department of Public Safety in recent years on technology upgrades for weigh stations – like pre-pass devices.
“These are transponders that are in these trucks out here that are able to communicate with weigh stations a mile out,” said John Esparza, TXTA president and CEO. “They’re weighed in motion as they cross. Their registrations are checked. They go through a number of items that are essentially checked before they even reach a weigh station. They’re given a green light or a red light whether they pull in or not.”
Esparza says Texas already has three new weigh stations with this ability, and DPS budget requests could result in even more. TXTA will be at the State Capitol for Trucking/Moving Day on Feb. 18.