Dueling bills aimed at assigning oversight of truck weigh station

By Stephanie Reitz, Associated Press Writer | March 8, 2007

HARTFORD, Conn. --Dueling legislative proposals could end the decades-old practice of splitting truck inspection duties between state troopers and Department of Motor Vehicles inspectors at Connecticut's weigh stations.

A bill to assign all duties to the Connecticut State Police was aired in a public hearing Thursday at the Capitol, and another proposal turning over the sole responsibility to the DMV will be presented Friday to a different legislative committee.

While both departments hesitate to label it a turf war, each says tractor-trailer inspections could increase, duplication would be eliminated and commuters would be safer if their approach is adopted.

The DMV has a powerful ally: Gov. M. Jodi Rell, whose budget proposal would put that agency in charge of running the state's weigh stations in Danbury, Greenwich, Union, Middletown, Waterford and various spots where temporary scales are set up.

She says the change would let the state police move about 21 troopers off truck inspection duties to other police work, such as more speed enforcement on the highways.

However, some state police officials say the DMV would not have enough people to fully staff the weigh stations alone -- a charge that DMV strongly disputes -- and that the specially trained troopers perform many duties that DMV inspectors cannot.

Steven Rief, president of the Connecticut State Police Union, told a legislative committee Thursday that truck safety work "is the long-standing tradition of the state police," and that taking them out of the equation will result in "the loss of life, the loss of property."

"It is what we do, quite frankly, and we do it efficiently and effectively," Rief said.

Truck safety has been heavily scrutinized since a July 2005 crash at the base of Avon Mountain, where a problem-plagued dump truck went out of control and caused a fiery collision that killed four people.

Michael Riley, president of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut, said the trucking advocacy group respects the state troopers, but believes DMV is the appropriate agency to oversee truck safety.

"It's never made sense that two agencies of government do the same thing," he said.

Although there is considerable overlap, state troopers at the weigh stations often focus primarily on weight-limit enforcement and ticketing for violations of law.

DMV inspectors, meanwhile, concentrate largely on safety inspections of vehicles -- brakes, axles, lights and other equipment -- and the qualifications of the operators, as outlined in federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration rules.

According to state figures, the DMV inspectors issued almost 73,200 violations to tractor-trailer operators and owners in 2005, and about 85,800 in 2006 through Dec. 15 of that year.

State police issued about 14,000 violations in 2005 and just over 17,750 in 2006, the state figures indicate.

However, troopers also wrote a combined total of more than 30,000 citations in 2005 and 2006 to commercial drivers in and around the weigh stations for breaking various laws, according to state police reports.

Lt. J. Paul Vance, a state police spokesman, said Thursday that the agency will abide by whatever the General Assembly and governor mandate it to do.

Motor vehicles Commissioner Robert Ward said Thursday that Rell's proposal provides more accountability by concentrating duties under his department.

The federal government already recognizes the DMV as the state's truck-enforcement agency, and it is the only agency with the authority to deny a commercial driver's license, force businesses to stop operating if their trucks are unsafe, and other administrative actions.

"We're confident we can do the job and do it well," Ward said. "This is the full-time specialty for our inspectors, whereas state police have lots of competing operations."

Officials from the state agencies aren't the only ones at odds over who should operate the weigh stations, also known as scale houses. Some state lawmakers, particularly those with the facilities in their districts, are watching the issue closely.

Some already are casting a doubtful eye on Rell's proposal.

"I really don't understand the governor's thinking on this proposal at all. I just can't figure it out," state Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, said Thursday.

Yet others think the idea makes sense, including state Sen. William Nickerson, R-Greenwich, whose district includes the busy weigh station on I-95. He supports turning over authority to DMV, with the understanding that state police would help when needed.

But, he said, he thinks the average commuter is more interested in the thoroughness of the truck inspections than the administrative maneuvering over which agency should be in charge.

"I'm completely unsympathetic to accusations of turf wars or 'me first' or 'they're not capable,'" Nickerson said. "That's the old Connecticut way -- the new Connecticut way is that departments have to learn to cooperate and work together."
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