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Big rigs, beware: Federal Way protects roads from commercial vehicles

Officer Manny Mairs stands in front of the commercial vehicle enforcement patrol truck. Police began enforcing commercial vehicle regulations in Federal Way in September. - Jacinda Howard/The Mirror
Officer Manny Mairs stands in front of the commercial vehicle enforcement patrol truck. Police began enforcing commercial vehicle regulations in Federal Way in September.
— image credit: Jacinda Howard/The Mirror

Big rigs traveling in Federal Way are now being monitored for compliance with hauling and safety regulations.

Federal Way police began a Commercial Vehicle Enforcement program in September. Two officers are trained to ensure semi, log-hauling, flat-bed, container and tow trucks, along with other commercial vehicles and trailers, are in compliance with local, state and federal rules.

“The main goal for this program is safety for the public, truck drivers themselves and to assist the city with the maintaining of the infrastructure,” officer Manny Mairs said.

Before the city had its own enforcement program, it relied on the Washington State Patrol. The agency primarily monitors the highway system. Troopers sporadically cruised through the city watching for commercial vehicle violations. This approach picked up some offenders, but many likely skated by, Federal Way Cmdr. Chris Norman said.

“The checks and balances were not there because there was not a program,” Mairs said. “We were relying on State Patrol.”

Accidents can happen if commercial vehicles are improperly or overloaded, in need of maintenance, lacking safety equipment or being driven by someone lacking a proper license or experience. Norman recalls when a truck flipped over a few years back, spilling crushed cars near Pacific Highway South and South 348th Street. Nobody was injured.

Mairs and his partner perform inspections designed to prevent dangerous and costly commercial vehicle incidents. They check the commercial driver’s documents, perform a walk-around where lighting and other the vehicle’s other safety features are inspected, or do a full interior, exterior and documentation inspection.

“That inspection is from headlights to taillights,” Mairs said.

They look for debris falling from a vehicle. They look for overflowing materials petruding from a vehicle. They inspect a vehicle’s tires and brakes. They have the power to direct commercial vehicles to a nearby scale to see whether the vehicles violate weight restrictions. They watch for trucks using unauthorized routes. If a violation of any kind is found, the driver is cited.

“If they’re not safe, they shouldn’t be out there,” Norman said.

Protecting roads

The enforcement also helps protect the city’s infrastructure. The damage caused to the pavement by a semi-truck weighing 80,000 pounds that is overloaded by 10 percent is equivalent to the pavement damage by 9,600 Ford Crown Victorias, 76 school buses, 27 metro buses or 15 semis of legal weight, according to information provided by the Federal Way police. The city’s roadways are not built for this kind of weight. Sidewalks can crush under the pressure.

Still, packing on the weight happens because it’s more affordable to a commercial trucking company if it uses fewer vehicles to transport the goods, Mairs said.

“There’s a cost-effectiveness for them to kind of cheat,” he said.

Some companies and drivers further endanger the city’s infrastructure by using residential streets. Federal Way has designated truck routes that are constructed to take the weight and handling of big rigs, Norman said.

The city has long been interested in commercial vehicle enforcement. Federal Way has been a commercial vehicle hub since at least the 1990s, police said. Three state highways — Pacific Highway South (Highway 99), Enchanted Parkway (Highway 161) and Dash Point Road (Highway 509) — running through the city, bring several big rigs to Federal Way.

The city is also within a relatively short driving distance to the Canadian border and is close to both the Port of Tacoma and Port of Seattle. The freight industry, just on Highway 18 to Interstate 5 alone, accounts for 3,600 trucks traveling daily in Federal Way.

Get involved

Police are asking the public to help enforce commercial vehicle laws. Residents who witness a commercial vehicle violation, such as a big rig dropping its load, or debris like rocks flying off the vehicle, are encouraged to take down as much information about the vehicle as possible and call 911 to report the incident.

The vehicle’s direction of travel, carrier name, license plate number and details about the incident are helpful, Mairs said.

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