Audit: Missouri's weigh stations work at warp speed

| Monday, September 29, 2003

Truckers and other industry professionals appreciate any effort to streamline truck weight enforcement procedures – but Missouri has gone where no weigh station has gone before.

A recent state audit revealed that the Barnhardt southbound weigh station, which sits on Interstate 55 south of St. Louis, reported weighing 426,465 trucks during the 2,161 hours the facility was open in 2002. That figures out to be an average of 197 trucks per hour – or one truck every 18 seconds.

The median number of trucks inspected at the state's weigh stations is 24 per hour, or one every 2.5 minutes, meaning the Barnhardt weigh station is moving eight times faster than average.

The science-fiction level of speed at Barnhardt was among a number of problems in Missouri's handling of truck weight enforcement pointed out by State Auditor Claire McCaskill and her staff pointed in an audit that was released Sept. 24.

The audit reported that the methods used by patrol officers for counting vehicles weighed is not consistent from one scale location to another. Some officers use a manual hand counter, while others estimate the number of vehicles weighed. In addition, some personnel at scale locations counted the vehicles driving through the bypass lane as weighed vehicles, while other locations counted only the vehicles crossing the static scale.

Auditors found two stations, including Barnhardt, that admittedly inflated vehicle counts. However, the audit did not name the second station.

“Enforcement personnel said they inflated the counts out of concern the weigh stations would close for inactivity,” the audit report stated. “These personnel received this impression from supervisors.”

Too predictable
Despite inflated counts at some stations, plenty of trucks are being weighed. But that doesn't mean that Missouri officials are catching all the overweight tickets. In fact, the audit indicated that the way the stations operate might cause them to miss the best times to catch heavy loads.

The state's permanent weigh stations operate during predictable hours, the audit said, often open during midday and closed late evening and early morning. However, overweight traffic is more likely during nights and weekends.

For example, auditors found that at the Mound City weigh station, which sits on Interstate 29 north of St. Joseph, the percentage of overweight vehicles increased from 16 percent at 8 p.m. to 23 percent at 4 a.m., even though truck traffic in the area was lighter overnight.

This coincides with Federal Highway Administration research that indicates, the auditors said, that permanent weigh stations' hours of operation should include nights and weekends, when overweight percentages may be the highest.

During the auditors' discussion with commercial vehicle enforcement officers, a number of supervisors admitted the scale station schedules do not vary much from month to month, and that most overweight tickets – 64 percent – were issued between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

The trend gets worse with portable scales, which auditors found operate less frequently in the evening and early morning than permanent scale locations.

The auditors recommended that to catch more overweight trucks, weigh station personnel should vary their hours of operation.

“Variable schedules and targeting of overweight vehicles would eliminate predictability and provide more effective enforcement,” the audit said.

To sum it all up
The audit placed the blame for many of the problems on the management of the Missouri Highway Patrol and its decentralized nature. Current management policies at the patrol, the auditors said, do not target overweight vehicles; Use traffic data when scheduling officer work hours; or provide guidance on hours of operation.

However, the audit did say that overweight vehicle enforcement could be improved within the patrol's current management structure.

The superintendent of the Missouri State Highway Patrol did take issue with some of the report's criticisms.

In comments contained within the auditor's report, the superintendent, Col. Roger D. Stottlemyre, said, “Although a larger percentage of truck traffic may be in violation at 4 a.m. due to small traffic volume, a larger actual number of trucks can be in violation at midday due to a much greater volume of traffic.”

He also pointed out that weight enforcement is not the only job commercial vehicle enforcement officers have, saying they must also deal with trucks on motor carrier authority, log books and other matters.

However, Stottlemyre indicated the patrol has started the process of making improvements.

“The Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division has recently implemented an improved method of reporting commercial vehicle activities,” he said, including “a more accurate method of tracking the number of vehicles weighed.”

--by Rene Tankersley, feature editor

Rene Tankersley can be reached at renet@landlinemag.com.

To view the full auditor's report, visit http://www.auditor.state.mo.us/press/2003-93.pdf.

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