Truck scales going underground

VICKSBURG — Scales on Mississippi highways in seven counties will be replaced this year with underground weight-measuring systems expected to streamline weigh-ins for longer trucks.

The Associated Press reports updates are sorely needed because scales in place for more than 20 years, such as those near Bovina on each side of Interstate 20 in Warren County, are too short to measure rigs up to 53 feet long, according to the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

“The new platforms are longer — allowing the entire truck to be weighed,” said Willie Huff, director of MDOT Law Enforcement. “The old ones do that but are shorter, causing some verbal instruction from the officer to the driver about moving the truck a little back or forward.”

As with the old scales, the new sensors will be under the paved ramps running beside the scale office. The upgrades to install new sensors over about six more feet of ramp are set to begin this month, along with new sensors for the agency’s pre-pass system, which works like a toll tag system to allow drivers with permits in good standing to keep on trucking past the scales with telemetry logging their data.

Companies recognized by the agency who use pre-pass still may be pulled over randomly as part of a pre-set percentage in the computer-run system to check for proper paperwork, fuel, registration and weight to ensure quality, Huff said.

Meridian-based Webster Electric Company plans to start work in February. Other scales to be addressed in the overall $3.6 million project include those along Interstate 10 in Hancock and Jackson counties, Interstate 59 in Pearl River County, Interstate 55 in DeSoto County, U.S. 78 in DeSoto and Itawamba counties and U.S. 72 in Tishomingo County. All are expected to be complete by June 30.

Traffic near the Bovina scales shouldn’t be affected when construction begins, as MDOT officials will direct trucks to the station’s large parking area behind the office and another parking area a few miles away on the eastbound side, MDOT Law Enforcement deputy director Joe Marshall said.

Despite its current scales being “one of the better-designed in the state,” Marshall said, much of the underground system now in place features parts that aren’t manufactured anymore. Backups are common on the shoulder of the road due to extra instruction to drivers, according to MDOT.

“Bovina and Meridian are probably the two highest in the state for truck volume,” Marshall said.

Fewer trucks passed the scales in fiscal 2009 than in 2008 due to the economy, said Marshall, who ran his own trucking business for about 25 years before going to work for the state.

“It’s the first time in my 14 years here,” Marshall said. “It tends to follow what the economy’s doing.”

MDOT statistics show 1,033,169 trucks passed the Bovina scales, about 50,000 fewer than the 1,086,546 in 2008. Pre-pass utilization was up last year, as 563,855 bypassed a weigh-in versus 434,117 in 2008. More operating permits were issued to truckers from the office last year, 1,999 versus 1,193 in 2008. Both increases are likely due to 111 more hours of operation per month in 2009, a total which varies each year depending on the agency’s budget.

MDOT Law Enforcement statewide staff of 206 monitors weight of commercial vehicles on all interstate highways in Mississippi and on highways without scales. It also has the authority to make arrests for more serious violations of the law, including offenses involving illegal narcotics on trucks deemed suspicious during checks, thanks to a move by the Legislature in 2004 to allow the agency to access information like a trucking company’s status to operate in the state. Ten officers are assigned to Bovina, Huff said.

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