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Portable scales enforcement helps keep motorists, roads safe

IDOT Blog – Wednesday, April 17, 2024

The day begins early for Dave Vatland and Aaron Terando, one of 12 two-person teams who make up IDOT’s Portable Scales Detail, which assists the Illinois State Police with commercial vehicle enforcement. With a coverage area consisting of parts of northern, central and western Illinois, there’s not much time to waste for Vatland and Terando to reach their assignment.

Timing is another thing. On one particular day last summer, plans to assist ISP Troop 4 Commercial Vehicle Enforcement in Peoria County fell apart with a crash on Interstate 74 that took several hours for police to handle. This is the decision point: Wait out the downstate crash in hopes of a trooper being available to work with them or find another assignment?

The duo chose the latter, finding some work with Troop 2 in Henry and La Salle counties. Starting in Annawan, Vatland and Terando meet with Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Officer Steve Icenogle and coordinate where to hold the enforcement stop.

It doesn’t take long before trucks take notice after the group sets up in nearby Atkinson. Some drivers decide it’s better to take a longer detour to their destination. As Vatland and Terando take turns stopping trucks to weigh on a set of scales the size of a suitcase, some drivers present their scale cards (proof they weighed elsewhere before their trip) and get a quick sendoff. Others get stopped, weighed and inspected by ISP officers. Some are allowed to continue. Others receive warnings and fines.

“We run into all kinds of trucks that should not be on the road, so it’s a safety issue,” Vatland said. “Running the scales gets these trucks stopped in locations where they can be looked at. With ISP we try to pay attention to that stuff, and it will get some of those trucks off the road.”

Portable scaling started in 1922 with the state police when it was a section in the Bureau of Maintenance with Illinois Public Works.  The first patrol comprised eight troopers using surplus World War I motorcycles and uniforms enforcing the state’s weight laws to protect the “hard roads” from damage caused by overweight trucks. Illinois Public Works, a predecessor to IDOT, took over the program in the ’50s and ’60s when it separated from the state police.

Today’s portable scale detail is based in Springfield and is composed of 12 two-person teams who are assigned to certain ISP troops statewide.

Weight Enforcement Engineer Keith Donovan said the portable scale team is called when a trooper selects a truck to be pulled over and weighed. That is when the team set up portable scales on the ground for the commercial vehicle to pull on to and weigh. In some cases, the state police requests teams with semi-portable scales, which are able to efficiently weigh a higher volume of trucks in a single location.

Donovan says the portable scale team is not to be confused with commercial vehicle weigh stations or weigh-in-motion systems found throughout Illinois. While IDOT builds and maintains weigh stations, they are operated by the state police and all trucks over 8 tons must weigh when they are open unless they have bypass credentials. Weigh-in-motion systems also are built and maintained by IDOT but can be monitored by the state police and the portable scales team.

“We use weigh-in-motion as a screening tool for the fixed scales and for all sorts of data collection, including bridge design, vehicle/truck volumes as well as potential fines missed when a weigh station is closed,” Donovan said.

Vatland and Terando battle the daily misperception by truck drivers that because they carry scales that they play a part in levying fines. While they check driver paperwork, they don’t issue tickets. That is up to the trooper they work with.

“If we tell them things that we see, it really helps them out,” Vatland says of working with the troopers. “It helps strengthen the relationship between IDOT and ISP.”

Vatland says their work is more than enforcement, but safety. He said if the state doesn’t prove it is accurately doing commercial vehicle enforcement, the federal government can potentially cut off up to 10 percent of federal funding for highways.

“Studies have shown that one 80,000-pound truck can do as much damage to the roads as 5,000 to 7,000 passenger vehicles, so it’s important,” he said.

The detail is making a difference. Vatland said compliance has increased in the last few years. Donovan said in a five-year period from 2018 to 2022 the portable scales detail has:

  • Averaged weighing 5,194 trucks on portable scales with an average of 767 citations per year.
  • Averaged weighing 19,433 trucks on semi-portable scales with an average of 262 citations per year.
  • Has brought in $2,115,603 in overweight fines on average per year.

“Some days are better than others, but it gives you a feeling of satisfaction,” Vatland said of his work. “What you’re doing matters. It gets something done.

“It feels good when we run into that because our families are on the same roads that we’re working on.”