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Published March 17, 2009, 07:42 AM

Farmer voices concerns on road’s weight limit signage

A Mount Vernon farmer says there are multiple reasons why an October 2008 ticket for a bridge overweight violation should have been dismissed, the least of which was an error in procedure by the Davison County Commission. Mark Meier said he resents any implication that his son, Matthew, evaded a $20,000 ticket on a legal technicality.
“There are about 10 reasons the signage on that bridge was wrong,” he said, noting that he is as concerned as the next farmer that area roads should not be abused by overweight trucks.

By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic

A Mount Vernon farmer says there are multiple reasons why an October 2008 ticket for a bridge overweight violation should have been dismissed, the least of which was an error in procedure by the Davison County Commission.

Mark Meier said he resents any implication that his son, Matthew, evaded a $20,000 ticket on a legal technicality.

“There are about 10 reasons the signage on that bridge was wrong,” he said, noting that he is as concerned as the next farmer that area roads should not be abused by overweight trucks.

Highway Patrol Trooper Mark Nelson ticketed Matthew Meier for allegedly exceeding the posted weight limit on a 22-foot-long bridge on 247th Street, about six miles west of 405th Avenue in northwest Davison County.

South Dakota Department of Transportation documents show the bridge was built in 1930 and reconstructed in 1955. The weight limit on the bridge has since been downgraded from 26 tons — the posted weight at the time the ticket was written — to a gross vehicle weight (GVW) of 24 tons for semis with a single trailer.

If upheld, the fine for the 27,600-pound overweight violation and the associated civil penalty would have cost $20,516. Mark Meier said the five-axle semi had a gross vehicle weight of 79,620 pounds, which is under Davison County’s posted legal limit of 80,000 GVW for its rural roads.

Circuit Court Judge Timothy Bjorkman dismissed the ticket because the County Commission never officially set the county bridge weight limits. At the request of State’s Attorney Pat Smith, the commissioners corrected that lapse last week and will consider a resolution at today’s commission meeting to further clarify matters.

The elder Meier said the road is used by farmers and truckers headed to the Poet ethanol plant in Loomis and full trucks regularly cross the bridge. He claims, among other things, that the bridge in question is improperly posted and that law enforcement improperly interpreted the posting.

“There was no legal loophole,” he said.

Meier said another son was fined $120 on the same road by a trooper from the Highway Patrol’s Motor Carrier Services division for operating a truck with a 81,000 GVW load, a 1,000-pound overweight violation.

“I have no problem with that. We paid the fine,” said Meier.

No ticket was written for crossing the bridge, but it was clear that the truck had to cross the bridge to arrive at the point where it was stopped for the half-ton violation, he said. Meier finds it ironic that the lighter truck received the more costly ticket. He estimates that fighting the larger ticket will cost his family $5,000 to $7,000.

Meier also complains that the signage posted near the bridge —which depicts a truck and trailer with a total of three axles — isn’t representative of the five-axle rigs that typically cross the bridge.

Capt. Patrick Fahey, who heads Motor Carrier Services, says the three-axle diagram on the sign is representative of a vehicle type and says the sign has no regard for the number of total number of axles actually under a truck-trailer combination.

“You’d have to have a billboard sign to depict all the possible axle configurations,” said Fahey.

He also believes the bridge and its posted limits are nothing new to truckers who regularly use 247th Street.

That isn’t saying that some truckers don’t find the signs confusing.

Chet Edinger, of Mitchell, whose family partnership farms the Mount Vernon area, said bridge signage “needs to be better than it is right now. There needs to be no doubt in anyone’s mind what can and can’t go across that bridge.”

Edinger said the DOT driver handbook clearly lays out limits for five- and seven-axle trucks, and highway signs should do the same. Even so, Edinger doesn’t tempt fate. He says his trucks never cross the 247th Street bridge unless they are empty.

Edinger is among several farmers who believe the bridge warning needs to be posted a mile or two before the bridge so drivers unfamiliar with the bridge can plan their routes.

At the 399th and 400th avenue intersections, initial bridge postings are about 50 yards past the intersection in either direction. The sign directing westbound traffic gives a three-quarter-mile advance warning. Truckers headed east get a quarter-mile warning. That’s not enough, said Edinger. Once past the signs, “you can’t back up and go around,” he said.

Lyle and Brenda Bode also farm in rural Mount Vernon.

Brenda Bode said her farm’s trucks take other routes to avoid the bridge, but says the difference in the way the two Meier fines were assessed by different Highway Patrol divisions was the buzz of the farming community.

She said the fines are excessive.

“For most farmers, it’s beyond their means to pay fines like that. I think the rules have to be a little more clear.”

Bode said grain haulers question the logic of the postings on a short bridge since, in the case of a 15-foot truck and 43-foot trailer, only a portion of the load is on a bridge at any one time.

Civil Engineer Carey Bretsch, president of the Civil Design Inc., of Brookings, has inspected county bridges in the past. He said the axle spacing and bridge span are critical factors in determining what load a bridge can handle.

Engineering computer models consider many configurations in determining which axle spacing places the greatest stress on a bridge.

“Each particular instance is somewhat unique — at least from my perspective — but I’m not in the enforcement business,” he said.

Fahey said that those engineering factors are incorporated when safety weight limits are assigned to a bridge. Troopers in the field check a truck for axle and tire loads in determining gross vehicle loading, he said.

“The bottom line on everything is trying to determine what’s safe for the public and what’s good for the long-term preservation of that particular structure,” said Fahey.

Eventual bridge failure is often the result of cumulative weakening by multiple weight violations, he said.

Fahey said area truckers have two options: “Go by the weight posted, or find a different road.”

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