Motor carriers have an easier and faster way to gather permits for their transportation operations through North Dakota now that a new automated routing and permit system was launched June 13.
Unlike the old permitting system, the online system will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for those seeking permits.
The $2.5 million system was developed as a collaboration between the North Dakota Highway Patrol, the North Dakota Department of Transportation and the North Dakota Information Technology Department over the course of two years after approval was granted in 2011's 61st state legislative session.
"The system is kind of two systems that we've merged together. It's basically a permit application," said Capt. Eldon Mehrer, the Motor Carrier Operations Commander of the North Dakota Highway Patrol. "Once they've entered their dimensions ... it will then go over them and then they can enter a destination and then the system can develop a route based on those weights and dimension."
He said it's a big improvement over the old system, which required human eyes to go over permit applications and to plan the proper route over state highways and roads to get to their destination. When the system was announced they expected it to be able to handle 60 to 70 percent of permit applications, but have found that it can automatically process 70 to 75 percent of the workload.
"Before we got into this system our staff was extremely overloaded," Mehrer said.
Permit applications have been increasing 30 to 40 percent per year for at least the last five years. In 2012 the Highway Patrol processed 348,000 permits, which was a 32 percent increase from 2011.
Mehrer says that much of the work being done for the oil sector in the western third of the state has been a major contributor to the rising number of permits, but said that it would be wrong just to cite the oil patch as the only factor involved. He said that many industries requiring trucking have been growing in the state as well as nationwide.
The enforcement end of things will remain as it has because the system doesn't ensure accuracy in the information required on the permit. Just as in the past, those who falsify the weight and dimensions of their loads on the applications may still be on the highway and troopers will still need to be on the lookout for overweight vehicles.
Mehrer stresses that the system only works for permitting state roads and highways, and that those who will need to cross city or county roads and highways will still need to obtain permits from those separate jurisdictions.
During the month of May, which is a recent month for which data was available, Ward County weighed a total of 20 trucks, of which 50 percent, or 10, of those trucks were overweight, according to Sheriff's Department Capt. Bob Barnard. On average the one deputy assigned for patrolling overweight trucks, Deputy Jamie Williams, pulls in a little over $10,000 in overweight fees.
"If they appear to be overweight we will stop them and weigh them," Barnard said.
The fees are standardized throughout the state and weights come in two forms: per-axle weight and total vehicle weight.
While Ward County will continue processing permit applications in the old way for now, changes may be on the horizon as trucking continues to affect the county highway system.
The Ward County Commission granted the county highway department permission to begin their own online permitting system, although Dana Larsen, the county highway engineer, says the project is still in its early stages. As of now those seeking a permit can download the permit from the website and send it in, but there is not an automated system in place and when it does come in many months down the road it won't be as sophistocated as that of the state system.
Larsen says that while the state can deal with major highways and interstates in their permitting, which would allow for permits to be processed under any road conditions, Ward County permits would have to deal with many more smaller roads, some of them even gravel which can be majorly affected by adverse conditions.