December 22, 2006
TRUCK WEIGHT INSPECTION STATIONS
By: James J. Fazzalaro, Principal Analyst
You asked why the truck weight inspection stations are not open more hours. You also wanted to know if the fines from the violations detected are enough to fund their operations and where these fines go.
Truck weighing operations in Connecticut are conducted by both the State Police and the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) under separate, but related programs. The State Police operate an enforcement program aimed at strict compliance with laws and regulations. The DMV program implements the federal Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program, which includes vehicle weighing but primarily focuses on compliance with safety regulations. The State Police have 18 troopers and nine civilian inspection technicians dedicated full time to truck inspections. As of March 2006, the DMV had 27 personnel performing truck inspections but it has nine additional personnel being brought on board through additional funding made available following the fatal accident on Avon Mountain in July 2005.
By law, the state's six fixed weighing facilities must operate a minimum number of work shifts per week. Actual hours of operation depend largely on the availability of personnel and operational considerations. Truck weight and safety inspections are a technical process requiring specific training. Thus, operations can be affected by illness, vacations, and special enforcement initiatives that occasionally occur and other agency personnel cannot easily be used for weight and safety inspections if they have not received training for it. Operational considerations, such as efficient use of personnel during maximum truck travel periods and assignment of personnel to prevent circumvention of the weighing facilities also may affect where and when operations occur.
Fines for overweight violations go into the Special Transportation Fund. Historically, the state actually receives about 60% of potential fines once cases are adjudicated. The state gets around $1.6 million in overweight vehicle fines each year. It appears that all of the fines assessed for violations of weight and safety requirements do not equal the cost of the three state agencies in operating the weight and safety inspection program.
OVERVIEW OF COMMERCIAL VEHICLE INSPECTION OPERATIONS
Connecticut runs two programs for inspecting commercial motor vehicles for compliance with maximum vehicle size and weight and safety laws and regulations. One is operated by the State Police through its Traffic Services Unit. The State Police program is strictly a law enforcement effort aimed at achieving strict compliance with applicable requirements. The other program is operated by DMV through its Commercial Vehicle Safety Division. The DMV program implements the federal Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program. Truck weighing is done as part of the DMV program, but is not its primary focus. The DMV inspectors conduct roadside safety inspections, but also engage in terminal audits, new carrier reviews, and other activities that are part of the federal program.
The State Police have 18 troopers and nine civilian weight and safety inspectors assigned to commercial vehicle inspections, but can draw on additional personnel from the 33 troopers in the Traffic Services Unit since they are all trained in commercial enforcement operations. Personnel not assigned to commercial operations perform other types of traffic enforcement.
The DMV program has 23 inspectors and four sergeants. DMV inspectors are primarily responsible for weighing activities at the inspection facility on I-84 in Union.
In FY 2003, more than 850,000 trucks were weighed by the two programs. Over one million vehicles were weighed in both FY 2004 and FY 2005. A total of 4,924 weight-related violation citations were issued in FY 2003, 4,847 in FY 2004, and 3,335 in FY 2005. The two programs performed 19,310 motor carrier safety inspections from April 2003 through March 2004. They performed 15,997 from April 2004 through March 2005.
WEIGH STATION OPERATIONS
Truck weight and safety inspections are conducted at more than 30 locations around the state, although some are used much more frequently than others. These locations have either permanent weighing facilities or are conducive to the use of portable scales for weighing trucks and provide sufficient space to store trucks that must be taken temporarily out of service for weight or safety violations.
Six of the locations are equipped with permanent platform scales. The six locations are as follows:
1. I-95 northbound in Waterford—one single platform scale and scale house,
2. I-95 southbound in Waterford—one dual axle weighing platform scale and scale house,
3. I-95 northbound in Greenwich—quadruple static scales and scale house,
4. I-91 northbound in Middletown—one triple pad axle weighing platform scale and scale house,
5. I-84 eastbound in Danbury—triple pad static scale and scale house, and
6. I-84 westbound in Union—triple pad static scale, inspection pit, and scale house.
The Greenwich and Union facilities are also equipped with “weigh-in-motion” capabilities. Weigh-in-motion allows trucks to be screened electronically while still moving to determine their potential for being overweight. These vehicles are then directed to the static scales to determine their actual weight.
The State Police personnel are principally responsible for weighing operations conducted at the Greenwich and Danbury facilities. The DMV personnel are principally responsible for weighing operations conducted at the Union facility.
Both programs also make use of portable scales to weigh both axle and gross weights. These scales allow weight inspections to be performed at locations, such as highway rest areas, that have the space to process trucks but no fixed weighing equipment. Several locations that are frequently utilized for weight inspections using the portable scales are:
1. I-84 eastbound rest area in Southington,
2. I-84 westbound rest area in Willington,
3. I-95 southbound rest area in North Stonington,
4. I-84 Exit 37 in Farmington—Suspect vehicles are removed from the highway and weighed at a nearby public lot,
5. I-91/Route 99 in Rocky Hill, and
6. Route 8 in Seymour.
A number of other locations where there are rest areas, commuter parking lots, or Department of Transportation (DOT) maintenance facilities can also be used for portable scale operations, although less frequently than the above locations. These include commuter parking lots near I-84 in Waterbury and Southbury, I-91 in Cromwell and South Windsor, I-291 in South Windsor, I-691 in Cheshire and Meriden, Route 8 in Trumbull, Route 7 in Norwalk, and Routes 2 and 3 in Glastonbury. DOT facilities used for weighing include I-91 in Wallingford, I-95 in Stratford and Westport, I-395 in Thompson and Norwich, and Routes 97 and 32 in Franklin. Rest areas that may be used for weighing operations include I-395 in Montville and Plainfield and Route 8 in Litchfield.
Minimum Enforcement Activity
Since 1998, state law has required minimum staffing levels at all of the fixed inspection facilities and through the use of portable scales. The law makes the public safety commissioner primarily responsible for coordinating the enforcement coverage except for the weigh station on
I-84 in Union. The motor vehicle commissioner must coordinate the operation hours of the Union facility (CGS § 14-270c).
The law requires the following minimum staffing for weight and safety inspection activities.
1. I-95 in Greenwich—Eight work shifts in each seven-day period from Sunday through Saturday. Two shifts can be worked consecutively on not more than three days.
2. I-84 in Danbury—Three work shifts in each seven-day period from Sunday through Saturday. Whenever possible, the public safety commissioner must coordinate coverage between Danbury and Greenwich to assure concurrent coverage.
3. I-84 in Union—Between five and eight work shifts in each seven-day period from Sunday through Saturday with hours of operation coordinated by the motor vehicle commissioner.
4. Portable Scale Operations—Ten shifts in each seven-day period from Sunday through Saturday. They must be staggered throughout four geographical areas established by the public safety commissioner and concentrated in areas that have fewer hours of operation for the fixed weighing areas.
5. The public safety commissioner may assign any remaining personnel in the department's traffic unit to the fixed inspection locations adjacent to I-95 in Waterford and on I-91 northbound in Middletown or to the portable scale operations. The public safety and motor vehicle commissioners must adjust all work shifts on a daily basis to effectuate an unpredictable schedule.
6. The public safety commissioner must assign personnel from the traffic unit to work between nine and twelve shifts in each seven-day period from Sunday through Saturday to patrol and enforce the laws relating to safe vehicle movement on the highways.
7. The public safety commissioner may reassign traffic unit officers as he sees fit to ensure public safety.
While these operational levels are required by law, these and any additional hours the weighing facilities are in operation are governed largely by personnel availability and operational requirements. As noted above, the commercial vehicle inspection programs usually involve more than just a weight check. Weight compliance is usually checked in conjunction with a safety inspection. This can be a time consuming process and sometimes trucks waiting to enter the station can back up onto the highway. The law requires the State Police to temporarily close any weigh station that develops a backlog of traffic entering the station creating a safety hazard (CGS § 14-270d).
Although there are a number of both DMV and State Police personnel dedicated to commercial vehicle enforcement, the number is not exceptionally large and the inspection process is technical process and requires certain specific training. Thus staff availability due to illness, vacations, and other factors, such as special law enforcement initiatives, can affect the total number of personnel available at any given time. Since it is somewhat specialized, the agencies cannot usually just assign other personnel to the weight and safety inspection operations. This can affect how many facilities are operating at a given time as can other operational considerations such as maintaining the ability to cover alternate routes trucks could use to circumvent the fixed facilities.
Fines generated by weight, safety, and traffic violations discovered by the inspection personnel go into the Special Transportation Fund. However, while the potential fines for these violations appear to exceed $4 million annually, the actual amounts collected, due to pleadings and reductions by the courts are usually less than the potential. Historically, the state actually collects about 60% of the potential fines that could be imposed for overweight violations.
Typically, the state receives about $1.5 million to $1.8 million in fines from overweight violations. Table 1 shows the actual amounts collected for overweight vehicle violations for the last five fiscal years. The information is taken from the Judicial Department database provided to the Office of Fiscal Analysis. The data does not include revenue from safety or traffic violations.
Table 1: Fines Received From Violations of Maximum Vehicle Weight Law (CGS § 14-267a)
Even when the fines for safety and traffic violations are accounted for, the revenue generated appears to fall short of the actual costs the Department of Public Safety, Department of Motor Vehicles, and Department of Transportation incur for operating the weight and safety inspection facilities. We have attached a November 2005 report from the Office of Fiscal Analysis comparing fine revenue and costs of operation of the weighing facilities. The report suggests that the fine revenues may equal less than half of operational costs.