Kentucky weigh stations struggle to stay open

Published: Nov. 3, 2016 at 10:00 PM EDT
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The weigh station on the southbound side of I-75 near London is one of fourteen weigh stations in the state.

In September, 40,000 trucks rolled past the scales, but vehicle enforcement inspectors were only able to check 250 trucks. "So that's a lot of trucks we are missing," explained Kentucky State Police Sgt. Jason Morris.

Currently, weigh stations in Kentucky are only open 29 percent of the time, in a 24-7 trucking industry. "Right now, because of manpower issues, we have so few inspectors at each installation that we're only able to keep them open so much time under the 24-hour day," Morris said. The time open averages out to be about 14 days out of the month.

"They need to be open. The scale houses need to be open," commercial truck driver Gary Thornbury said.

Thornbury drives his truck through Kentucky three times a week. "Everybody needs to be spot-checked. That's the only way to weed out the bad drivers."

He's been trucking for 30 years and he's noticed the scales he passes in Kentucky aren't usually open, but he didn't realize it was this bad.

"It really surprises me that you say only 29 percent of the time. What's the purpose of having them if you aren't going to have them open?" he asked.

"It's something we are attacking head on," said Transportation Cabinet Commissioner John-Mark Hack. "The number of commercial vehicle enforcement officers are at historically low levels," he explained.

That issue, Hack said, causes a ripple effect. The scales are closed more, public safety is at risk, and money for Kentucky is flying out the window.

"It's safe to say it's in the millions of dollars on an annual basis and it's certainly sufficient enough to take a hard look at the hours of operation."

If the weigh stations are closed, the state isn't collecting fines and taxes from non-compliant trucks. "The taxes that they pay go directly to the construction of roads and bridges," Hack said.

That's if they are paying their taxes. State officials said many trucks avoid weigh stations. "They pattern us. They know when we're out," said Sgt. Morris. "They know when the scale facilities are open so they know when they can bypass."

Technology is trying to compensate for the manpower loss. The Kentucky Automated Truck Screening System scans all the needed numbers when a truck comes through the weigh station. But the system misreads the numbers and letters, a lot. And inspectors have to manually punch in the correct numbers. "Because we only have a few inspectors at this location (London), we're unable to make sure we are catching all of these," Sgt Morris said.

The state is working to hire more vehicle enforcement inspectors. They want to hire 25 this year, and 25 more early in 2017. The pay for an inspector is less than a vehicle enforcement officer and a trooper.

Kentucky Trucking Association released a statement on hiring more vehicle enforcement inspectors:

"As chairman of the Kentucky Trucking Association and on behalf of the association, we commend Commissioner Hack and Commissioner Sanders on their efforts to insure all motor carriers are complying with the regulations for interstate commerce. We are confident the addition of commercial motors vehicle officers will not only insure motor carriers using Kentucky highways pay their fair share but also provide the citizens of Kentucky the confidence that their highways are safe."