Weigh station closure would create hassle
Wisconsin trucker Rusty Howard isn’t looking forward to the prospect of having to make a U-turn off westbound Interstate 70 just to get to a weigh station on the eastbound side of the highway to have his rig checked out.
But that may be what he and the nearly 500 other tractor-trailer drivers who pass through the westbound Loma port every day will have to do starting next month.
The Colorado Department of Revenue had been planning to close the weigh station on the westbound side of the interstate as of Friday because Utah backed out of a long-standing agreement to share funding for it, and the Colorado Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee rejected a department request to pay the $193,000 needed to keep it open.
“That would suck. I don’t agree with that,” Howard said Wednesday when he learned of the possibility while driving through the weigh station. “We don’t have time for that, not if they want us to keep our logbooks straight.”
Closing the westbound station would require truckers to take the Loma exit, cross over the highway and negotiate a tight loop on a narrow road that would take them into the station on the eastbound side.
If they miss that exit, however, they’ll have to drive another four miles down the highway to the Mack exit and turn around.
“That’s just crazy,” Howard said.
The issue began last year, when the Legislature approved a law that turned over safety inspection duties to the Colorado State Patrol.
The Utah Department of Transportation took that law to mean its four workers at the westbound station couldn’t continue to do safety inspections of trucks heading into their state.
Chad Sheppick, acting operations manager of the Utah department, said he wasn’t in charge at the time, but his understanding is Utah’s legal interpretation of its station-sharing agreement with Colorado meant Utah workers were subject to the Colorado law, which barred anyone but Colorado troopers from doing the inspections.
After months of Colorado officials trying to persuade Utah that wasn’t the case, Utah backed out of the agreement last month.
Colorado’s Revenue Department found temporary funds to keep it open, but it decided to close it when the JBC rejected a request to fund it after the start of the 2011–12 fiscal year, which begins Friday. Last week, the six-member JBC deadlocked on the issue, with the three Republicans on the panel voting against funding it.
Department spokesman Mark Couch said that resulted in a decision to close the westbound port. He said the department doesn’t have to funds to pay the four additional workers needed to make up the loss of the Utah employees.
It didn’t end there, though.
After days of phone calls and serious arm-twisting from various folks complaining about the matter, including from Rep. Laura Bradford, R-Collbran, and the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, one of those Republican lawmakers said Wednesday she will change her vote.
“After I heard everything, then it made sense to me why they wanted the money,” said Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen. “Because I know it will be good for the truckers, I’m good with it, so I will be reconsidering my vote.”
As a result, Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton and JBC chairwoman, scheduled another meeting to revisit the matter, and the department plans to leave the port open until the panel votes July 11.
Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver and a JBC member, said he hopes the vote will go better next time. He said other JBC members opposed it because they didn’t want to create more government jobs, but the issue isn’t limited to that.
“Even though the trucks could logistically do it in terms of moving between the two stations, work-wise it’s too much of a burden on those (port) workers,” he said. “It’s one of those arguments when people want to decry spending in government. If we don’t spend this money, and the trucks can’t move on a timely pace and get held up, that has huge impacts on the cost of goods.”
Ferrandino said it is unrealistic to expect the eastbound station, which already handles nearly twice as many trucks a day as the westbound facility, to handle the extra load. Doing so will delay truckers trying to get through the area, and it could result in some serious traffic headaches for local residents at the two interchanges, he said.
Hodge said damage to the Loma and Mack overpasses must be considered, too.
“I don’t think those overpasses can handle that kind of traffic,” she said.
According to the department, the westbound facility handles about 177,000 trucks per year, an average of 485 trucks per day. The eastbound facility, which is larger, handles about 316,000 trucks a year, or 866 trucks a day.