DUDLEY, Mass. — At 8:13 a.m. on June 30, a truck hauling construction soil from the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission pulled onto the scales at its destination, a Dudley quarry that is being filled, weighing in at 134,900 pounds.
The maximum legal weight for a loaded truck in Massachusetts is 99,000 pounds.
That same truck, from N&B Trucking in Marlboro, dumped its load and drove the estimated 60 miles back to fill up again, returning to Dudley at 11:21 a.m. and weighing 116,620, still nearly 18% more than the legal limit.
A third trip brought in a legal loaded truck of 87,340 pounds at 2:29 p.m.
The N&B truck is not alone in operating well over the weight limit, according to a Telegram & Gazette analysis of data posted on the state Department of Environmental Protection website.
These super-heavy trucks, often driving at high speeds on major highways or winding along back roads, add potentially deadly safety hazards, not to mention costly and dangerous road damage, to the traveling public.
The physics of why a significantly overloaded truck could be dangerous is clear. A 99,000-pound, 5-axle dump truck going 65 mph, all within the legal limit, would take almost two football field lengths to stop, according to Worcester Polytechnic Institute physics professor Germano Iannacchione.
A truck weighing 130,000 pounds and going 65 mph, such as the N&B truck traveling the Massachusetts Turnpike and Interstate 395 to Dudley from Springfield, would take 710 to 720 feet to stop, about 2 1/3 football fields.
Big construction projects are booming across the state. As developers ship unwanted soil, which has low levels of contaminants to be reused as fill for gravel pits, commercial sites or for farms, heavy trucks are traversing the Mass. Pike and other highways across the region.
Truckers generally are paid by the ton for their loads, with adjustments for factors such as tolls and locale. While some trucks have scales built in to check weight when they are being loaded, many drivers guesstimate, often erring on the heavy side, which would increase their pay.
"When you see someone coming in at 115, 118 [thousand pounds], that's deliberate. That's going to be something we're not going to allow," said William French Jr., president of W.L. French Excavating Corp., after being shown an analysis last month of truck weights to the Dudley site provided by a reporter. French is one of the operators of the quarry reclamation project.
"Data is data. They've all been called. They've all been warned," he said.
State police who patrol the Mass. Pike and other roads say overweight trucks are a regular occurrence.
"Overweight tends to go with unsafe," said Lt. Thomas Fitzgerald, who commands the state police Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Section, also known as the Truck Team.
The Truck Team weighs 65,000 trucks a year, not including those on the Mass. Pike, which are weighed by troopers from Troop E. Besides looking at weight, inspectors check brakes, driving records, equipment maintenance and other safety factors during their stops.
According to David Procopio, media communications director for the state police, at least half of the trucks checked in Uxbridge, coming out of the Boston area transporting heavy wet fill, are estimated to be overweight.
Trooper Ray O'Neil from Troop E said state police have "from time to time" come across crashes involving heavy loads.
The biggest thing, according to Fitzgerald and O'Neil, is that really heavy trucks are "destroying the roads."
Accounting for road damage is why Massachusetts, unlike many other states, will let trucks drive above the federal 80,000-pound limit as long as they pay for a yearly permit costing several hundred dollars. A spokesman for the state Department of Transportation said engineers use truck weight and size data in calculating the thickness of new pavements and overlays for resurfacing projects.
Connecticut doesn't allow such overage, limiting 4- and 5-axle trucks to a maximum 80,000 pounds gross weight, according to David Hiscox, transportation supervising engineer at the Connecticut Department of Transportation.
Between January and June this year, the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles reported 2,055 overweight trucks, or 1% of 202,171 trucks weighed.
Deliveries to the Dudley quarry from Connecticut averaged far less than most Massachusetts loaded trucks, between 77,326 and 82,298 pounds.