Errant truckers tracked down

Enforcement operation targets drivers seeking to avoid I-5 weigh station

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

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RIDGEFIELD — Truckers will drive winding back roads or take Highway 30 up through Longview to avoid the Ridgefield Port of Entry weigh station — and the hefty fines awaiting a truck that doesn't pass inspection.

But an 80,000-pound semi attempting to sneak around the scales can be easily spotted.

More than 20 officers from the Clark County Sheriff's Office, La Center and Ridgefield police departments, Washington State Patrol and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration enforced trucking safety Thursday at the Ridgefield weigh station. After seeing so many trucks bypass the scales, Deputy James Naramore of the sheriff's office organized the first safety emphasis day back in March. This time, he knew truckers would take different routes once they got wind of the enforcement. So, he got Oregon State Patrol involved, and they opened the weigh stations along Highway 30.

"This is the first time we've gotten that extra support," Naramore said.

The port of entry is the busiest scale house in Washington state, operating 24/7 with an es

timated 3,000 trucks passing through the scales each day -- that's nearly three trucks every minute. Another 2,400 are allowed to bypass the scales, and 300 are stopped for a full inspection.

When the weigh-in-motion scale and automatic license plate reader on Interstate 5 detects a truck with problems and a low safety rating, it's flagged to go through the weigh station for a vehicle inspection. In total, the system spews out 36 difference pieces of information on a commercial vehicle.

"We know a lot about that vehicle before it ever comes in the scale house," said Lt. Roy Rhine with the Ridgefield Police Department.

Next summer, the port of entry will have an infrared camera installed in the road that checks brakes and detects if a truck's tires are low.

Often, drivers who know they haven't logged enough sleep hours or that something is wrong with the truck or the load will take an earlier exit and go through the back roads.

Truckers driving on these roads are a problem for Ridgefield and La Center residents, who are bothered by the rumbling trucks. Northeast 10th Avenue, a popular thoroughfares for truckers, is riddled with cracks and bumps.

Naramore stopped a truck at Northeast 10th Avenue and Northeast Carty Road in the afternoon. The DeLaval Universal driver seemed up to snuff, and his vehicle equipment passed inspection. But when the driver opened the back of his truck, Naramore discovered corrosive material in canisters that weren't properly secured.

While the driver was just one and a half miles away from his destination, a Ridgefield dairy farm, the material could have spilled in his truck and leaked onto the road.

The 47-year-old wasn't the only trucker busted by enforcement officers.

Earlier that morning, Naramore responded to Northwest Allen Canyon Road, where a semi was blocking both lanes of traffic. A U.S. Xpress Enterprises truck hauling crates of juice to Dollar Tree high-centered along the winding road. He tried to back up and hit an embankment, damaging the back of the truck and tearing off the mud flaps. The juice crates fell over, rolling around in the bed of his truck.

When Naramore arrived, the driver told him his GPS said to take Allen Canyon Road on his way to Dollar Tree. The driver drove his damaged truck and damaged goods to the port of entry in Ridgefield. He stayed there till midnight.

Unsecured loads were one of the most common violations that day, according to Naramore's early counts. Officers see a wide range of problems, from faulty lights to worn-out tires to driver violations such as driving with a suspended license, following too closely or not wearing a seat belt.

The biggest violation? Overweight trucks. Trucks can weigh anywhere from 10,000 to 105,500 pounds, depending on the length of the truck, the axles and how much they're licensed to carry. Overweight vehicles break down the roadway, Naramore said, leaving taxpayers with the repair bill. The fine is based on the number of pounds the truck is overweight. A truck that's 2,200 pounds overweight, for instance, results in a $251 fine. Naramore has seen fines as high as $60,000.

Truck drivers and truck companies face traffic ticket fines that can be more than double what they are for a passenger vehicle driver. Companies that allow their drivers to use handheld cell phones while driving, for instance, can face an $11,000 penalty.

The rules and regulations for commercial drivers are stricter than they are for everyday, passenger vehicle drivers because the potential for damage and injury is much greater. In 2010, there were 2,971 collisions involving heavy trucks, 22 of which were fatal, according to Washington State Department of Transportation. While passenger vehicle fatalities nationwide have decreased, fatalities involving large trucks increased 6 percent from 2009 to 2010. Most of the crashes occurred on state routes.

Naramore said he's seeing more commercial trucking traffic, likely because of changes in the economy and industrial growth. If Naramore gets more complaints from the locals and sees truckers who continue to bypass the Ridgefield scales, he'll conduct such truck safety enforcements more frequently.

Patty Hastings: 360-735-4513; http://www.twitter.com/col_cops;patty.hastings@columbian.com.