Mississippi farmers using trucks to transport crops from the field to a gin or grain terminal are reminded that weight limits on posted bridges and roads must be observed, and untaxed dyed fuel for on-farm use cannot be used in vehicles on highways in the state.
Failure to observe the regulations can result in fines, and in some cases additional assessments, a lot of paperwork — and in worst case scenarios, such as a bridge collapse, potentially costly lawsuits, says Willie Huff, director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation Office of Enforcement.
Weight limit postings for bridges and bridge closures “have an impact on your business,” he told members at the joint annual meeting of the Delta Council Ginning and Cotton Quality Improvement Committee and the Southern Cotton Ginners Association. “If you can’t get your cotton from the field to the gin, you’re in a potentially costly bind. Today, there are 150 posted bridges on state highways, and over 2,000 on county roads; out of that number, about 500 county road bridges are closed.”
Because those postings change frequently, Huff notes, the MDOT website has a map of all state posted bridges (https://bit.ly/2OikfHx). “You can click on each bridge along your route and it will show the weight limits for various types of trucks and axle configurations. You can also go to the Mississippi State Aid road system website (https://bit.ly/2LNI08J) and click on “bridge information” to see a county-by-county listing of posted and closed bridges.”
In 2007 when an Interstate bridge over the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis collapsed during rush hour traffic, killing 13 people, and dumping trucks, cars, and a school bus into the water below, Huff says “the federal government stepped in and said it was going to get serious about bridge guidelines and inspection procedures for any bridge in the country where any federal money was involved in its construction or maintenance — that every step possible would be taken to insure no more failures of bridges. Then in 2010 they rolled down that edict to the states and counties, saying all bridges had to be inspected and posted for weight limits or those governments would lose federal money.”
For more on the deteriorating condition of Mississippi's bridges and transportation infrastructure, see this NBC News article: "In Mississippi, closed bridges and crumbling infrastructure threaten lives and livelihoods," by Phil McCausland.
The result, he says, was that “we had to inspect every bridge in Mississippi, calculate weight limits, and post those that didn’t meet specifications, or even close the worst ones. On the basis of those inspections, they reported that Mississippi has the largest number of wood piling bridges in counties that are No. 2 rated (a 3-ton weight limit), and No. 3 rated (a 10-ton weight limit).
“They decided to inspect a dozen No. 2-rated bridges, and the first 12 they inspected were ordered closed. Then they said all No. 2 rated bridges in the state would be inspected, which resulted in 124 more bridges being ordered closed by the governor. There is a now second round of inspections on the No. 3-rated bridges, and there likely will be more closures.”
Operators need to be aware of bridges with very low weight limits, Huff cautions. “If you’re hauling cotton modules that weigh 65,000 lbs., you can’t go across a bridge rated for 6,000 lbs. You may get by with it, but if that bridge goes down because of an overweight load, you aren’t going to be able to move your cotton out of the field to the gin. And fixing the bridge can be a low process, or perhaps it won’t be fixed at all if no money is available.
Work is well along or complete on a dozen or so bridges on Miss. Hwy. 6 between Clarksdale and Batesvllle, a key route to area gins or grain terminals that has been a problem for farmers for years due to low posted weight limits.
“The same situation exists on a lot of our state highways. Some of those bridges are posted for 15 tons, so you’d better not be taking a 65,000 lb. truck across it. One of these days it may to fail, and your truck may be on it. Or a school bus full of kids. Or a fire truck headed to your house.”
MDOT is utilizing virtual weight stations at numerous locations on state highways, Huff says. “They can take a photo of a vehicles tags and DOT numbers and transmit that information to our data bases. We can tell whether a truck is registered, whether it’s supposed to have an operating card in the state of Mississippi, what kind of safety score you have if you’ve got a DOT number, and the weight of the truck. We use these devices as a sorting tool — if a truck’s in compliance, we don’t have to pull it over for a check and cause unnecessary delay. But if it’s overweight or otherwise out of compliance, that information is sent to our enforcement officers, who can be 10 miles down the road waiting for the truck to come by and be pulled over. All over the state, our officers also conduct random pullovers to check weights.”
"Last year, we caught 14 trucks from the same area with dyed fuel. Later, we caught them again in another area of the state. There was a $2,000 penalty for each truck, in addition to a per gallon assessment based on the capacity of the fuel storage tank from which the trucks were fueled."
Maintenance of the state’s highway/bridge infrastructure is increasingly a challenge, Huff says. “We’ve got to find a way to maintain our roads and bridges. You all see the potholes, you see the bridges closed, you see the posted signs, and the costs to maintain these facilities or build new ones, keep increasing at a time federal and state revenues keep going down. “There’s not enough money to avert these shortcomings in infrastructure maintenance, so we’re continually playing catch-up. The people who make our laws, at both the federal and state levels, need to understand the importance of you being able to get your products out of the fields and to market. The Delta Council has been great job of emphasizing this at state and national levels. But you farmers and ginners need to continue to let your lawmakers know how vital this is to your businesses and to our state’s economy.”
In a comment to Huff, Haywood Wilson, chairman of the Delta Council Ginning and Cotton Quality Improvement Committee, noted the ongoing project to replace a dozen or so old bridges on Miss. Hwy. 6 between Clarksdale and Batesville, and between Sumner and Charleston, including a large overpass bridge spanning a railroad just outside Sumner, the site of numerous accidents and several deaths. “We thank MDOT for replacing these low weight structures that were a major problem for transporting our crops to gins and terminals,” he said.
In discussing untaxed dyed fuel for off-road vehicle use, Huff emphasized that the fuel should never be used in vehicles that will be operated on the highways. If a vehicle is stopped for an MDOT check, he says, “We’ll put a dipstick in the tanks to check for dyed fuel. Last year, we caught 14 trucks from the same area with dyed fuel. Later, we caught them again in another area of the state. There was a $2,000 penalty for each truck, in addition to a per gallon assessment based on the capacity of the fuel storage tank from which the trucks were fueled.
“Remember: Even though there may be only a small amount of dyed fuel mixed with other fuel in a vehicle tank, that’s still going to be a violation and incur a penalty. You can’t have 10 percent dyed and 90 percent ordinary fuel — if we find any amount of dyed fuel, it will result in a penalty and per gallon assessment on the capacity of fuel storage tank.
“In addition to that,” Huff says, “the truck will be tied up on the side of the road and you’ll have to fill out a mountain of paperwork for the Internal Revenue Service and Mississippi Department of Revenue. Please, if you’re going to mix fuel in tanks for off-road use, be sure none of that fuel gets into trucks that will be on the road.”