LUMBERTON — Troopers stationed at the mile-24 weigh station on northbound Interstate 95 are constantly stepping around trash cans that collect water dripping from the 45-year-old ceiling. Paper towels soak up puddles forming on desks and hot pink post-it notes reading ‘LEAK’ informatively dot the ceiling. There are few “safe zones,” as they call dry spots, left.
Yet the station, along with another one directly across I-95, generates more money than any other in the state.
So far this year, Troop B, which operates both I-95 weight stations, has generated $252,343 in fines against truckers with too much cargo weight, expired tags and permits or other safety violations. All of that money will go to the State Public School Fund and will then be distributed among school systems based on student population.
Last year, Troop B brought in $1,531,885.84 — about $195,000 more than the second most lucrative troop, Troop H. Troop B’s 48 members patrol 11 counties from I-95 to the coast, with five officers always posted at the mile-24 weigh stations.
“Ever since I walked on this property, which was 22 years ago, we’ve been getting a new weigh station,” said Sgt. Steven Kirby, who along with 1st Sgt. Vincent Terry, oversees the weigh stations. Kirby said the land to build one on was purchased years ago.
The a storage builing at the station across the interstate was rebuilt after a truck backed into it. A car once collided with the northbound side’s station, and the replacement window still doesn’t line up quite right. There’s mold forming in the ceiling and the new metal door is rusting from the outer edges inward.
Since a snow storm hit Robeson County last week, the Department of Public Safety has installed a tarp on the station’s roof to curb the leaking, which Kirby said has made a difference.
“I’ve spent 20-something years here. I like the old girl, but she’s falling apart,” Kirby said. Kirby said the building has been condemned several times, as have the scales. Since rusting out and collapsing, they have been replaced by comparable — albeit borrowed — temporary ones.
In the five days between Jan. 13 and Jan. 17, troopers at the two weigh stations identified 1,002,140 of unsafe excess weight on the trucks that came through that week — amounting to nearly $54,000 in fines. Fines issued haven’t necessarily been collected, but sharply escalating interest rates help ensure that they are eventually.
Most of the more than 48,000 trucks that stop at the station each month are 51-foot 18-wheelers, which are not supposed to weigh more than 80,000 pounds with cargo. Weight limits vary depending on the length of a truck and how many axles it has. Trucks that are traveling on state and U.S. highways, which are patrolled by Troop B’s portable scale-touting road crews, are allowed to carry 10 percent more weight than those on I-95 — “just to give them a break,” Kirby said.
According to Kirby and Terry, many truckers are trying to take more cargo at a time in order to make fewer trips. Additionally, many forgo their mandatory rest breaks, and falsify their log books — a $500 fine — to reach their destinations faster.
“They avoid us like the plague,” Kirby said. “Truckers that know they have unsafe equipment, they will go way out of their way. They’ll go up Barker Ten Mile Road, they’ll take 301, they’ll take 71 … just to avoid the weigh station.”
Although most inspections are done at the station, many truckers trying to sneak through back roads are caught by the road crew, which includes one trooper who has been the “top weight-getter in the state” for about three years now, Kirby said.
When a truck is stopped, its weight, tags, permits, log books, sleeper berths, cargo-bracing systems, lights, emergency brakes, horns and tires are inspected, although this is a little trickier to manage on the side of U.S. 74 than at the station.
“We find a lot of violations through the inspections that we do that could cause a lot of these wrecks on the interstate,” Kirby said.
Violations go against the driver’s record, but the company must pay the fines.
“Between lack of sleep, equipment failures, general wear and tear, road conditions, I don’t think the public is aware of what they’re up against every time they pass a commercial vehicle,” Terry said.
According to The Truckers Report, it takes an 18-wheeler 40 percent longer to come to a complete stop than a car.
“They don’t have time to teach all this in driver’s ed to these young drivers, so they cut a truck off that’s hauling 75,000 pounds … he could be texting or on his cell phone like a regular Joe Q. Public,” said Terry, who once drove trucks himself. Truckers are allowed to use hands-free headsets only.
Kirby said drivers should always leave at least 100 feet of space in front of them when driving behind a truck.
“When I’m in my personal vehicle, I back off. Let that truck have the road. The farther away he is from me, the better I’m going to be,” Kirby said. “Stay back, give them plenty of room to operate and move around and stay out of the blind spots.”
Terry said drivers should continue to be cautious on the roads at night and during the weeks, because truckers know there aren’t as many troopers on patrol.
“Unfortunately we don’t have enough personnel to operate every weekend … trucks are still running but not as many, as studies have shown,” Terry said.
Despite the needed repairs, troopers at the station are in good spirits, and with a larger staff and a new station, could accomplish even more.
“If we had a newer, better up-to-date facility and new technology here in this building, there’s no telling what we could generate for the state,” Kirby said.