Deputies go on weight patrol
WILLMAR -- It's just after 9 a.m. on a recent weekday, along County Road 2 just north of Atwater. Kandiyohi County Patrol Sgt. Matt Akerson turns on the radar in his patrol car and sees that an oncoming semi truck is going 61 miles per hour in a 55-mph zone.
Akerson turns the squad around, activates the squad's emergency lights and the truck pulls over. This is more than just a traffic stop for speeding, this is weight patrol, weighing trucks to enforce the spring road restriction weight limits in place to protect the county's roads.
A heavy-duty set of scales are used to weigh each of the seven axles under the trailer, full of turkey litter. The road is rated at 9 tons, so each axle may weigh 18,000 pounds. Akerson tallies each of the weights before moving the scales and instructing the driver to move the next axle onto the scales.
In the end, the driver is just under the allowable maximum weight. He's given a verbal warning for speeding and allowed to go on his way.
As he gets back into the squad car, Akerson recalls that he has given the driver of the truck a ticket for an overweight load in the past. "I do get to know the truckers," he says.
The next truck is waved over to be weighed. This driver isn't so lucky, he's also hauling turkey litter and is overweight on all four axles under his trailer. Akerson writes him a misdemeanor ticket for $190 for the heaviest axle violation.
Akerson is one of three sheriff's deputies working extra shifts this spring during road restrictions. The shifts are in addition to the regular patrol duties of the law officers, he explains. The deputies manage weight patrols in two ways: either in response to complaints from citizens or officials about road damage or as general patrols across the county.
The deputies also conduct weight patrol during their regular shifts, as needed, and during night shifts, monitoring those haulers who may be seeking to evade detection by running under the cover of darkness.
Trucks are either stopped for probable cause just like any other traffic stop and then also weighed, or the deputies set up weigh stations along the side of the road to defer trucks onto the portable scales.
All about the subgrade
The spring road restrictions began March 9 in Kandiyohi County and last until the road subgrade dries out and makes road damage less likely, according to county highway engineer Gary Danielson. "Given the kind of weather we are having, it may be around the first of May," he said.
All county roads, if not posted during the spring season, are five-ton roads, meaning trucks cannot weigh more than five tons per axle. Signs posted at intersections advise truckers if the road is rated at 7, 8 or 9 tons during the spring. The rating is based on the quality of the subgrade material under the roadway surface. For example, a sand and gravel subgrade is much less affected by spring soil conditions than subgrades made of heavier, clay soils.
"Every subgrade is bit different, especially how it reacts in the spring," Danielson says. "The county has a great variety of soils."
County highway officials have testing done each year to determine the appropriate load limit for a roadway, plus they consider the amount of truck traffic a road will be subjected to, he adds.
Much of the county road system is rated at 9 tons, Danielson says, because the county is working to get as much of the road system up to that level. Several county roads are rated at 10 tons in the spring, including County Road 1 from Highway 23 to Prinsburg, County Roads 5 and 55 west of Willmar and County Roads 23 east of Willmar to County Road 8, which is rated at 10 tons north to Highway 12. To get a map of the county's road restrictions, go to http://www.co.kandiyohi.mn.us/depts/Hwy/RoadRestriction%20.htm.
The taxpayers pay
The sheriff's office has been doing truck weight enforcement for years, according to Sheriff Dan Hartog, who recalls weighing trucks during his time as a patrol officer in the 1980s. Entering the political fray of balancing the movement of livestock, grain and goods for the benefit of the economy with potential damage to the roads doesn't bother the sheriff.
"If you allow (truckers) to run heavy, it costs all of us," he says. "The taxpayers pay."
Most of the haulers understand why they can't run heavy loads in the spring and they know what their truck and load weigh and use that information to comply with the restrictions, he says. Others have made a fiscal decision, choosing to circumvent the rules and run heavy.
The sheriff's deputies focus on the weight per axle on trucks, even though state law allows them to ticket on tandom and tridom (two- and three-axle sets), and total registered vehicle weight. The patrols don't target a specific area of the county, a specific hauler or specific cargo, Hartog says.
"It doesn't mater what you are carrying, it's what you weigh," he said. "The main reason is to cut down on damage to our roads. Speed and weight are what wreck a road."