Is King County Washington Playing Russian Roulette with Safety in Transporting its Solid Waste?

King County playing Russian Roulette with safety?

Every single day it appears, King County, Washington is breaking the law – and they know it. If you drive in the county you’re sharing the road with dangerously overweight trucks that are hauling loads so grossly overweight their drivers say it’s just a matter of time before there’s a tragedy.

The trucks aren’t from some fly-by-night operation — they’re with King County Solid Waste.  So, King County Solid Waste drivers came to the KOMO 4 Problem Solvers in desperation. They told us they were terrified that the county is playing Russian Roulette with your safety.

“Operating a safe system is our highest priority,” said Kevin Kiernan, the director of King County Solid Waste.  But drivers insist it’s not a safe system, and state law says it’s illegal. And time after time, our undercover cameras caught evidence of trucks with scale weights well over the 97,500 pounds gross vehicle weight that the law allows. 

“It’s criminal as far as I’m concerned,” said long-time driver John Arsenian.

Several drivers risked their jobs to bring their concerns to the Problem Solvers. Digging into County records, we found that over the past three years, Solid Waste had more than 19,000 truck trips over the legal limit. That’s an average of 16 overweight, illegal loads on our roads every single day. 

The heaviest recorded load was more than 59,000 pounds overweight.

“It’s negligent, it’s dangerous,” says one driver who asked to remain anonymous. “It’s putting the public at danger, it’s putting the workers at danger.”

King County uses its own fleet of semi-trucks to take garbage from its eight transfer stations to its Maple Valley landfill. That’s where the loads are officially weighed, at the end of the trucks’ trips.

On one day, in less than half an hour, our camera caught three overloaded trucks coming through the scales. Two of them were more than 8,000 pounds overweight.

Several drivers told us they’d gone to management repeatedly for more than a year. “We’re asking our management ‘please just fix this,’ it’s very simple. They say, ‘too bad,’ ” one driver told us.

The State Patrol regulates safe truck travel. Officers wouldn’t talk specifically about King County’s overweight loads but, in general, agree with the drivers’ judgment.

“It’s very dangerous for everybody,” said Code Enforcement Officer Kevin Valentine. “Not just for the drivers — for the motoring public.”

So why hasn’t the Patrol stopped the Solid Waste trucks? The county’s routes from those eight transfer sites to the landfill bypass all state weigh stations.

But Officer Valentine says if they knew of overweight trucks like these, they’d park them immediately. “It’s very unsafe,” he reiterated.   Drivers tell me they’ve begged King County to put in scales – even temporary scales at transfer stations – and a major scale manufacturer told us it’s do-able. But the county told the drivers no.  One driver says they were told, “you can quit or you can haul these loads – we’re not getting you scales.”

But Solid Waste Director Kiernan says temporary scales aren’t feasible.  “Having something operate reliably in that environment is very challenging,” he said. “We’ve looked and we haven’t found anything that we believe is effective.”

Arsenian’s answer? “They think they can get away with anything. That’s their attitude, which is a shame.”

Kiernan insists that’s not true. In 2004, in response to driver complaints, Washington State Department of Labor & Industries investigated and found no safety violations. And, Kiernan says they’ve had no serious accidents.  “Our safety record demonstrates that there’s not a problem there,” he said.

Drivers don’t think that’s good enough.  “I don’t believe that there should be a horrific incident before they do something,” one said.

King County Solid Waste has a plan to overhaul all the problem transfer stations with new scale systems, but the first one won’t be completed until 2012.

In the meantime, KOMO News 4 have taken their findings to the State Patrol and they’re setting up a meeting with King County to educate them on the law and help them get into compliance.

News Source: KOMO News Channel 4 Problem Solvers – Seattle, WA
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