By Sally Voth firstname.lastname@example.org
Area delegates Beverly Sherwood, R-Winchester, and Joe May, R-Leesburg, joined Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Richard Holcomb on Thursday for a tour of the Interstate 81 weigh station south of Stephens City.
It was Sherwood's first visit to the motor carrier service center in "many years," and in that time, technology has really changed how it operates, she said. That technology has made the DMV more efficient and better able to ensure safe trucking on state roadways, she said.
"What they're doing here makes 81 safer because they're doing safety inspections here," May said. "Not just safety, but protecting the assets of the commonwealth."
Seventeen DMV employees staff the weigh station, which is open 24 hours per day. State police personnel are also on site.
Besides making sure tractor-trailers aren't carrying too much weight, the station handles safety inspections of the trucks and drivers, and makes sure appropriate taxes are being paid and the right fuel is being used. There also is equipment that can detect if trucks have radioactive or nuclear materials in them, DMV motor carrier size and weight services director Michael Baxter said.
So far this year, DMV employees in Stephens City have weighed 1.9 million trucks and issued 4,659 citations, according to Baxter.
The Frederick County station is the busiest of the 13 around the state, weighing about 3.2 million tractor-trailers last year, according to DMV documents.
May and Sherwood were given a demonstration of mobile weigh operations.
"We have 12 mobile crews that travel statewide," Baxter said. "They do a phenomenal job for us."
The station's infrared inspection system (IRIS) also was demonstrated. A camera pod mounted near the highway captures thermal images of trucks.
"It tracks trucks coming down the ramp and checks brakes for a heat signature and it checks exhausts for a possible leak, too," said Bruce Yahner, regional manager for the motor carrier size and weight services.
It also checks tires for under-inflation.
Yahner said trucks are allowed to haul 20,000 pounds per axle, or 80,000 pounds gross without a permit. Part of the reason for weight limits is to keep the roads in good shape, he said.
"It's a safety problem as well because the stopping distance is increased so much when the truck is grossly overweight," he added.
Yahner said the portable weigh stations are generally used on secondary roads with the assistance of law-enforcement agencies because the DMV doesn't have the authority to do traffic stops.
He also discussed the PrePass system in which trucks are weighed as they travel down 81 and can avoid stopping at the weigh station if they meet a variety of requirements. The tractor-trailers have a transponder on their dashboards and if everything's in compliance, a green light comes on and they can continue on the interstate.
About one-third of trucks can by-pass the weigh station by using the PrePass, weigh-in-motion option, Baxter said. He said the scales are under the highway about 1 1/2 miles from the station.
Holcomb stressed that the majority of truck drivers are safety-conscious. He acknowledged that I-81 in the Northern Shenandoah Valley is laden with tractor-trailers.
"We just want to make sure it's safe traffic," Holcomb said. "Quite frankly, when I see trucks, I see commerce moving. When you don't see trucks, that's a bad sign."
"For the legitimate truckers who follow the rules and are serious about it, these guys are allies," he said of the DMV workers.