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who’s carrying the weight?

By enelson
Wednesday, June 21st, 2006 at 11:12 pm in Freeways, Funding, Safety, trucks.

After reading an editorial about the 50th Anniversary of the Interstate Highway System and its state of disrepair, reader Ann S. wonders who pays for the upkeep:

When I used to do that kind of traveling, there was always a big thing over the highway and it said, Weigh Station Ahead, and the trucks had to stop and pay some money on the grounds that they were heavy and the weight was crumbling the highway. My question is, do they still do that, make pay trucks pay according to weight, because the weight is what’s crumbling the highways as described in your opinion piece June 18.

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I called Ann, who explained that at age 74, she doesn’t get out much, but excepted my eyewitness account of the continued existence of weigh stations, in particular the one at Cordelia along I-80 on the way to Fairfield.

That, regrettably, was where my expertise gave out. Just what they do they do at those weigh stations, besides, um, weigh trucks? Does it have anything to do with the taxes and fees trucks pay to operate on the roadways? And does the money collected from truck operators provide much help, if any, for the upkeep of our middle-aged freeway system?

After a day of making calls, I discovered that these are not easy questions to answer in one place. Think of the blind men and the elephant.

By far the most helpful answer I received was from a California Highway Patrol officer who used to work at one of commercial vehicle enforcement facilities, as they like to call weigh stations.

In a nutshell, the CVEFs, which can also be found along I-880 and I-680 in the Bay Area, are mainly about safety and have very little to do with highway upkeep. CHP officers do ascertain whether the truckers are up-to-date on all their permits and licenses, however, and ticket them if they aren’t.

At least I was able to determine one bit of funding that the truckers provide. When ticketed, much of the proceeds go to the local jurisdiction where they get caught.

The weighing that goes on is mostly done with sensors on the freeway that tell CHP how much weight is on each axle. If any axle is overweight, the truck is directed to the more precise scale in the station. If a truck exceeds 80,000 pounds, it’s in violation and can’t leave the station until another truck comes and lightens its load. Even if it’s within that weight and too much weight is on one axle, a trucker may have to shift the weight until it complies with regulations.

According to that explanation, the load doesn’t seem to determine how much a truck pays. On the Website of the California Trucking Association, there’s a notice warning of efforts to charge trucks according to how heavy they are and how far they go. Apparently, they’re allowed on the road or they’re not, and pay the same whether they’re hauling Styrofoam beer coolers or concrete lawn deer.

I also contacted the Department of Motor Vehicles and received this bit of information:

Weight fees are established by the legislature in California Vehicle Code Sections 9400 and 9400.1.
We collect weight fees and then deposit them into the State Highway Account. Those funds are then appropriated by the legislature to the appropriate entities. The major benefactor of the Account is the Department of Transportation with the CHP and DMV coming in a distant second and third, respectively. Food & Agriculture, Public Utilities Commission and Conservation also receive small appropriations.

The State Controller’s Office also diligently searched for answers, but came back with a theory about how Caltrans (the first place I called) might have a better idea about how much money is collected from truck operators and what it’s used for.

A spokesman for the state truckers group said they don’t have a research department and didn’t know how much money went into highway maintenance. He suggested calling the American Trucking Association near Washington, D.C., so I left them voice mail.

The answer so far: Trucks certainly get weighed and they certainly pay, but the connection between weight and money and highway maintenance is unclear. Until I get to the bottom of this, I invite any experts, even self-appointed ones, to post more complete answers.

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2 Responses to “who’s carrying the weight?”

  1. matt Says:

    While it’s unclear how much truckers contribute to highway upkeep through direct taxes and fees at weigh stations, it is clear that truckers contribute far more per mile traveled than regular automobiles. How is that, you might ask? Gas taxes. Trucks clearly burn more fuel, hence they pay more taxes. While these taxes are not used solely for upkeep, they certainly contribute heavily to the effort. Those funds are also used to site, design and construct new corridors. In some imstances, state DOTs are looking at alternative solutions which involve separating commerical vehicles from regular commuters by establishing truck only lanes (see the developing I-81 PPTA in Virginia for a good example).

  2. B smart Says:

    Trucks pay for the highways the same way the rest of us do….with Fuel Taxes (state and federal). Theoretically, trucks use more gallons per mile than do cars. Also, the heavier the more wear and tear it will put on the roadway, but it must also consume more fuel to pull its load. Thus, the more tax it pays.

    Fuel tax is a dedicated tax. That is, the revenue received from it is to be used on the maintenance and construction of highways.

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