Posted by: project151 | January 25, 2008

Updates From Truck Safety Coalition Executive Director 1.25.08

Land Line Magazine; Wednesday, January 23, 2008
HEADLINE: UPDATE: FMCSA breaking ‘both letter and the spirit of the law’

KPRC-TV (Houston, Texas); Thursday, January 17, 2008
HEADLINE: Local 2 Investigates Big Rigs Avoiding Safety Checks
Byline: Robert Arnold

Tulsa (Oklahoma) World; Wednesday, January 23, 2008
HEADLINE: State to rebuild 9 weigh stations

__________________________________

Land Line Magazine; Wednesday, January 23, 2008
HEADLINE: UPDATE: FMCSA breaking ‘both letter and the spirit of the law’
By Jami Jones, senior editor

A federal lawmaker warned the Bush administration that spending federal money to keep the cross-border trucking program with Mexico afloat is in dangerous legal territory.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, a Democrat from Oregon and chairman of the House Highways and Transit Subcommittee, didn’t mince words when he challenged the legality of the program in a Jan. 16 letter to Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters.

“Using federal funds to continue to review the applications of Mexico-domiciled motor carriers, conduct pre-authorization safety audits, and grant new authority breaks both the letter and the spirit of the law,” DeFazio wrote.

Funding for the cross-border program ended when President George W. Bush signed the massive $555 billion omnibus-spending bill into law on Dec. 26, 2007.

The bill contained a provision that states: “None of the funds made available under this Act may be used to establish a cross-border motor carrier demonstration program to allow Mexico-domiciled motor carriers to operate beyond the commercial zones along the international border between the United States and Mexico.”

In his letter to Peters, DeFazio wrote that he is “disturbed” by recent comments that the DOT will “not establish” any new demonstration program with Mexico.

“Although your statement parsed the difference between establishing a program and continuing one, the intent of Congress was very clear,” DeFazio wrote.

This is the second letter to Peters that addressed the “intent” behind the legislation that cut the program’s funding. The first letter was from the sponsor of the legislation, Sen. Byron Dorgan.

The North Dakota Democrat defended the intention behind the legislation to Peters in his letter.

“I asked the Senate Legislative Counsel, which drafted the provision on my behalf, for their interpretation. … The Senate Legislative Counsel maintains that the provision was ‘drafted to prohibit the use of funds for a demonstration program to allow Mexico-domiciled motor carriers to operate beyond certain commercial zones,’ ” Dorgan wrote to Peters on Jan. 3.

With both lawmakers calling the Bush administration out on its push to continue the program, DeFazio cautioned Peters that the administration cannot ignore the will of the people.

“I am extremely disappointed that it appears the administration plans to ignore a very strong statement made by Congress. I ask you to reconsider your decision,” DeFazio wrote.

“I hope that Congress won’t have to take further steps to compel you to protect the safety of the American people.”

KPRC-TV (Houston, Texas); Thursday, January 17, 2008
HEADLINE: Local 2 Investigates Big Rigs Avoiding Safety Checks
Byline: Robert Arnold

NEW WAVERLY, Texas — Local 2 Investigates has uncovered hundreds of potentially dangerous trucks avoiding roadside safety checks. Our hidden cameras caught it happening time and time again just north of Houston. Investigative reporter Robert Arnold reports these truckers are avoiding a crucial safety net that is supposed keep you and your family safe on the interstate.

Dozens and dozens of trucks rumble through the small town of New Waverly, Texas, about an hour north of Houston.

“It’s a safety issue,” Walker County Judge Danny Pierce said.

The trucks Local 2 Investigates watched were not delivering loads, filling up with gas or grabbing a bite to eat. The truckers rolling through New Waverly were intentionally bypassing the scrutinizing eyes of state troopers at a nearby weigh station.

Here’s what’s happening: As truckers head north on Interstate 45, a weigh station waits for them at the Walker County line. Just before that weigh station is the Shepherd Hill Road exit.

Local 2 setup its hidden cameras at that exit and watched as a truck exited 45 then headed north on Highway 75. Local 2 even saw the sign for the weigh station as it followed the truck along Highway 75 and into the small town of New Waverly. Once there, the trucker banks a left on Route 150 and heads right back out to I-45.

“There was no reason for that trucker to have gotten off of 45. He didn’t stop for anything, except to get around that weigh station,” said Arnold.

“All of those vehicles that are bypassing the truck stop are doing it for a reason,” said Pierce.

The reason is because weigh stations are crucial to catching dangerous rigs and bad drivers. Troopers look for overloaded trucks, bad brakes, bald tires or any number of problems that put people in danger on the road.

Texas Department of Public Safety Sgt. Paul Webb said 45 percent of the trucks that pass through his station get yanked off the road for violations.

“Just in the past couple of days (we) arrested user amounts of marijuana in a couple of trucks. Within the past couple of weeks there’s been a couple of DWI truck drivers,” said Webb.

But if the truckers get past that weigh station then they have got a free shot all the way to Oklahoma, and with CB radio, the truckers know when the troopers are working and when they’re not.

“As soon as we turn the light on they know,” said Webb.

Local 2 saw it first hand. Every time the weigh station was open, a flood of trucks poured through New Waverly.

“Do you find a lot of them?” Arnold asked.

“Oh, yeah. Every day. Every day we get a chance to work back there we bring in trucks,” said Webb.

Still, none of what Local 2 caught on tape is illegal.

“That’s why we’re trying to work towards something to force them into this facility,” said Webb.

Even though it is perfectly legal for trucks to bypass that station, or any other weigh station by taking an alternate route, state troopers have the authority to pull over and inspect any truck they want. The problem is that DPS does not have the manpower to work both the weigh station and watch for trucks blowing through New Waverly.

“If I send a trooper over there he might get two or three and then he’s got to bring them back,” said Webb. “Well, you’ll have eight or 20 or whatever pass you by as you’re doing that.”

“It was put there for a good reason and we need to maintain that it works. And we intend to see, one way or another that we make that happen,” said Pierce.

DPS and Walker County officials are trying to get a truck route established in that area to force all the rigs into the weigh station.

This problem is also wreaking havoc on the town of New Waverly. All the trucks going through New Waverly pass through a school zone, freeze traffic at the town’s only stop light and are tearing up the roads. Plus, since none of the truckers stop, the town does not even get the added benefit of extra sales tax revenue.

Some legislators tried to make what Local 2 showed you illegal, but a proposed law was killed. Tomorrow at 6:50 a.m. Arnold will explain why legislators could not get this law passed.

End.

Tulsa (Oklahoma) World; Wednesday, January 23, 2008
HEADLINE: State to rebuild 9 weigh stations
Byline: D.R. Stewart, World Staff Writer

Oklahoma’s dilapidated network of commercial truck weigh stations will be rebuilt and relocated under an agreement between the Oklahoma Corporation Commission and the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, agency officials said Tuesday.

Under a memorandum of understanding between the agencies, $61 million in state funding will be spent over the next several years to construct nine commercial truck inspection stations along major highways on Oklahoma’s borders.

Of the total, $54 million will come from the Petroleum Storage Tank Indemnity Fund, officials said. A 1-cent-a-gallon assessment is paid into the fund by petroleum retail marketers when they take delivery of fuel.

The remaining $7 million will be contributed by the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority in the form of turnpike tolls.

ODOT and the Corporation Commission share responsibility for the weigh stations. ODOT is charged with the upkeep of the facilities, the commission with staffing of them.

Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner Jeff Cloud, speaking by phone before a joint agency press conference, said the funding agreement is “good news and a good investment for Oklahoma taxpayers.”

“The condition of our weigh stations is deplorable,” he said. “We are making huge investments in this state in our road infrastructure, and our weigh stations don’t allow for 24-hour enforcement, so less than 10 percent of vehicles are inspected.

“The cost of the damage to our state’s road and bridge infrastructure from overweight trucks far outweighs the cost of providing effective inspection stations.

“When you travel to Kansas, Missouri or Texas and see their inspection stations and then see ours, you see how much more important those states regard inspection stations — and how much better their roads are.”

Oklahoma’s 12 truck weigh stations were built nearly 50 years ago after the completion of the 47,000-mile Interstate Highway System.

Only six weigh stations are operating today, and only one — along U.S. 287 at Boise City in the Panhandle — is considered a modern facility with computers, lounges and restrooms.

The other weigh stations — along I-35 at Tonkawa and Davis, I-40 at El Reno, U.S. 69 at Colbert and U.S. 27 at Hugo — have no central heat and air, hot and cold running water nor facilities for truck drivers or staff. Electricity was installed at some of the stations only within the last few years, officials said.

“The state of our inspection stations has been a vexing problem for some time, and we’re thrilled that the Corporation Commission has been able to develop a funding solution,” Secretary of Transportation Phil Tomlinson said in a telephone interview.

“This is a great opportunity that benefits all Oklahomans.”

Gary Ridley, director of ODOT, said the new inspection stations will be built along high-volume truck entrances into the state.

“These nine entry points account for a little over 9 million trucks annually,” he said. “This is a red-letter day for us. Our borders, for the most part, are wide open.”

The potential damage from overweight trucks is enormous, industry officials say.

The interstates and U.S. highways are built to handle 80,000-pound semi-trailer trucks. A 5 percent increase in that weight can result in a 19 percent reduction in pavement life, according to “Guide for Design of Pavement Structures,” published by the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials.

For pavement that was designed and built to last 30 years, trucks 5 percent over the legal weight would reduce its life span by 5-1/2 years, AASHTO said.

Dan Case, executive director of the Oklahoma Trucking Association, said 50,000 out-of-state trucks enter Oklahoma every day.

“We have no idea what they’re carrying,” Case said, adding that his members obey the weight limits and support the construction of new weigh stations.

“This is the best thing that has happened to Oklahoma roads, bridges and safety for years,” he said.

ODOT’s Ridley said site preparation at the nine inspection station locations would begin within a year. Construction costs for the stations is expected to range between $1 million and $8 million, depending on the location and terrain, he said.

“Right of way (acquisitions), utility relocations, letting contracts for the site work, which will be the major cost, not the building itself — we’re going to see earth moving within 12 months,” Ridley said.

“We’re excited.”

John Lannen
Executive Director
Truck Safety Coalition

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