Erik Burgess, Published October 24 2012
Moorhead police hope to put brakes on semis skipping weigh stations
They do it for a reason, Ebinger said. Perhaps they are overloaded, using bad brakes or have some other equipment issue and want to avoid fines. Overweight semis can incur fines into the thousands of dollars.
“We’re kind of the last place they can skip and hope to get away with it,” the police chief said.
But Ebinger hopes to nip the practice in the bud.
A few officers have already been trained to look out for commercial vehicle infractions, but now the chief is hoping to buy a portable scale that is carried in a squad car and can quickly weigh any trucks that decide to pass on inspection.
“If you’re going to come through the city, that’s fine as long as it’s roads that’s legal for trucks, but you’re not going to do it to avoid getting your vehicle inspected,” Ebinger said.
Weigh stations are meant to keep trucks at a safe weight for the road, to check for mechanical issues and to inspect driver logs, which are kept to ensure drivers are getting the legally required amount of rest.
But getting around the station is possible for any driver who knows their truck isn’t up to snuff.
Ebinger knows the bypass route well. Eastbound truck drivers looking to skip inspection follow U.S. Highway 10 through Moorhead.
The Minnesota State Patrol’s commercial vehicle inspectors located at the weigh station are never the wiser. But the added traffic downtown causes congestion and puts unnecessary strain on the main corridors, Councilman Mark Altenburg said.
For proof, Altenburg said to look no farther than the intersection of Eighth Street and Main Avenue.
“The northwest corner is completely gone,” the councilman said. “The pavement has just been carved off from trucks dragging that corner.”
The roads used by trucks to drive through the city – Main, Center and 12th avenues, and Eighth, 20th and 34th streets – are built to withstand truck traffic, said Chad Martin, the city’s director of operations.
But Altenburg and Ebinger argue that even though the streets are technically able to handle the weight, the downtown corridors are aging, and the corners are too tight for the long trailers.
“Downtown wasn’t made for semi-trucks,” Altenburg said.
Ebinger made it clear that 99 percent of truck drivers obey the rules.
“But the 1 percent that’s driving through our streets with defective brakes and defective equipment will quickly learn this is not the town you want to do that in,” he said.
Portable scales – which slide under the wheels and weigh each axle individually – are already in use on the road by Minnesota State Patrol troopers.
Ebinger said without a portable scale at his officers’ disposal, if they notice a possible infraction, they have to call out to the weigh station to ask for an inspector to come out.
He set aside $3,600 in the Police Department’s proposed 2013 budget for one portable scale unit. The council has yet to approve budget requests, but members seemed receptive to the proposal, the chief said.
Lt. Mike Theis, who supervises commercial vehicle inspection in Minnesota from the Canadian border to Alexandria, said the State Patrol is well aware of the issue.
“It’s a common violation because we do see vehicles that are not in compliance trying to skirt the scale to avoid detection,” he said.
But proving a driver intentionally skipped the station is difficult, Theis said, so having local police trained to inspect semis is important in keeping everyone honest.
“There’s a very limited amount of us, and if we can have more people helping us, then everybody ends up being safer on the roadway,” Theis said.
Skipping a weigh station, Theis said, can be punished by an $850 fine.
The State Patrol also offers “train-a-cop” classes, Theis said, which give local police the tools to spot a commercial infraction – like if a semi doesn’t have commercial plates or is using hydraulic brakes, which are illegal in Clay County.
Ebinger said his officers have utilized these classes, and he hopes to continue that training. He also plans to look for state funding to help the cause.
“You’re either going to get stopped in Moorhead or you’re going to go to the weigh station,” Ebinger said. “Folks are going to start doing their business the way they should.”
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Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518