Heavy Traffic

Heavy Traffic

A change in state law means overweight trucks are paying less in fines -- with the money coming straight from local coffers.

by jesse fox mayshark • february 11, 2019


A change in state law dealing with overweight trucks that seemingly nobody in Knox County knew about until it was done will cost the county nearly a quarter-million dollars a year, according to local officials.

A bill that benefits trucking companies was written by a legislator who owns one.

Criminal Court Clerk Mike Hammond informed County Commission last month what he had learned from the Tennessee Highway Patrol: that the state was no longer issuing citations to drivers of commercial trucks with a total weight exceeding the federal limit of 80,000 pounds.

“For many years, if a truck was overweight, they would receive a fine for being overweight and they would also receive a citation,” Hammond said in an interview last week. Now, they will still be fined, but not cited.

This affects county finances because a portion of the fees from those citations went to the state and a portion came to the local jurisdiction -- to Hammond’s office, the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, the county general fund and the school system.

“Until (Hammond) brought it to us, we weren’t aware of it,” said Knox County Finance Director Chris Caldwell. “Unfortunately, it does have an impact.”

Both eastbound and westbound commercial truck drivers passing through Knox County are required to stop at the vehicle scales at mile marker 372 on Interstate 40/75. It is one of only six weigh stations in Tennessee, which are strategically located to intercept most interstate truck traffic.

According to the Highway Patrol, which manages the facilities, Knox County’s station is by far the busiest in the state -- and, because of the confluence of federal interstates it serves, one of the busiest in the country.

As a result, it also sees the state’s highest number of violations for trucks carrying more than the legal limit. Weight limits for trucks are set to protect highways and bridges from degradation. Although the weight limits are set by the federal government, states have leeway in setting fines or fees.

Last year, state Rep. Bud Hulsey, R-Kingsport, sponsored a bill that amended the existing penalties for overweight trucks, eliminating the criminal citation altogether. To avoid a negative impact on the state budget, the bill increased the fines -- which go directly to the state -- from 3 cents or 5 cents per pound overweight (depending on the weight) to 10 cents.

But the bill included no provision for replacing the lost revenue to the six counties that house the weigh stations. The net effect is to reduce the overall cost to trucking companies, at the expense of local jurisdictions.

Hulsey, a retired Kingsport police lieutenant, is owner and president of Burlington Logistics, a trucking company based in the Tri-Cities area. He didn’t respond to a message asking for comment on his bill, but in an interview with WBIR Channel 10, he acknowledged that he introduced the measure after one of his own drivers was issued a citation.

Hammond said his office had been receiving about $100,000 a year from the citations, and the loss of it will reduce the amount of excess fees he returns to the county’s general fund each year. Caldwell said about another $140,000 from the citations used to flow to other county funds.

Hammond said he had talked to court clerks in the other affected counties, and none of them had been aware of the change in the law either.

He said that while the primary impact of overweight trucks is on state-maintained roads, they also run on local roads and highways.

“They pull off,” Hammond said. “They make deliveries, they get gas, they get food. They’re traveling our roads, and the overweight trucks damage our roads, no question.”