The Ward County Sheriff's Department received delivery of 10 portable truck scales on April 19 to help combat truck overload violations.
Overloaded trucks are "shortening the life of the pavement," said Assistant County Engineer Travis Schmit. Roads are designed for a "20 year life," but the weight overloads are causing the roads to fall apart much faster. Roads deteriorating faster than expected require more frequent taxpayer-funded repairs, he said.
New, portable model WL101 scales were purchased from the Loadometer Corporation of Forest Hill, Maryland, for a total of $48,950 in accordance with the 2012 budget. They have not yet been fully utilized "due to man hour shortages," said Captain Bob Barnard from the sheriff's department. A Ford Expedition SUV has been equipped with a rack capable of transporting and storing the scales. Deputy Jamie Williams, a court officer, has been assigned to the task and will be working on it full time as soon as the department is able to fill his current position.
Ward County Engineer Dana Larsen "absolutely" sees the scales as a way to save money in the long run. Five or six years ago, before the oil boom was under way, Larsen said that crews would "spend maybe two to three weeks patching around the county" at a cost of "maybe $20,000." The average for the last three years, he said, has been closer to county and contract crews spending a third to even half of their time doing asphalt patching and spotting overlays to the tune of $400,000 to $500,000 a year, not including the county's gravel roads. Larsen added that increased trucking in general contributes to the damages but overloaded trucks add significantly more stress.
The North Dakota Highway Patrol, which has enforced trucking regulations since 1983 when it absorbed the duty from the North Dakota Department of Transportation, has between 200 and 230 portable scales, says Captain Eldon Mehrer. There are also two semi-portable trailer scales located in Minot and Dickinson, which are platforms that can weigh a complete vehicle and are "pulled behind a unit," he said.
Mehrer thinks the portable scales act as a deterent because it allows the officers to respond to reports of violations anywhere. "We're not in a set location; we can be mobile," he said.
The Highway Patrol's portable scales are in addition to the nine fixed-scales across the state. Four fixed scales in Bowman, Beach, Williston and Minot are in the western half of the state but are not enough to deter overload violations.
"There are more trucks out there that need to be weighed," Mehrer said, citing the stress on the Highway Patrol to enforce the violations. Other jurisdictions, such as Ward County, are stepping up with their own scales to enforce overload violations and protect roadways in their own area.
There have been roughly 1,500 violations statewide totalling $2.5 million this year alone, said Mehrer, based on numbers from the end of September.
All fees collected from overload violations currently go to the state, not to the counties, said Bernard, but the governor has stated support for a bill to send a share of the money to the affected counties.