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.
I called Ann, who explained that at age 74, she doesnt 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 arent.
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, its in violation and cant leave the station until another truck comes and lightens its load. Even if its 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 doesnt seem to determine how much a truck pays. On the Website of the California Trucking Association, theres a notice warning of efforts to charge trucks according to how heavy they are and how far they go. Apparently, theyre allowed on the road or theyre not, and pay the same whether theyre 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 Controllers 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 its used for.
A spokesman for the state truckers group said they dont have a research department and didnt 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.