Highway patrol keeps eye on dump trucks

David Briggs
Construction vehicles are making as many as 300 trips a day to the Point Reyes National Seashore to reconstruct the park’s main thoroughfare. Along the way, the drivers have bothered residents with their noise and speed, leading to enforcement by the highway patrol.  

With residents complaining about double-trailer dump trucks rumbling through Inverness and Point Reyes Station, California Highway Patrol officers are conducting focused enforcement almost every day on the large vehicles.

Three speeding tickets have been issued to the trucks, which are making as many as 300 trips a day to and from the Point Reyes National Seashore. They’re bringing thousands of tons of asphalt, rock and concrete to a 12-mile stretch of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, which is being pulverized and overlaid with four inches of new aggregate. The $35 million project was awarded to the Santa Rosa-based Ghilotti Construction, and the trucks are operated by various subcontractors.

“They’re heavy, big trucks so even if they’re doing five miles per hour over the speed limit, in that area if they have to slam on their brakes, that’s going to be hard to stop. And you have driveways and you have storefronts, and for the most part Inverness is a quiet little place,” officer Andrew Barclay said. “We’ve sent a lot of different resources and we will continue to do that.”

Beyond stationing officers in discreet locations to radar the trucks, the highway patrol has also set up unannounced roadside inspection stations. The commercial inspections are thorough and ensure that the vehicles are mechanically sound and being operated by individuals with the appropriate training and licensing. No violations have been found so far.

The highway patrol has also pulled Ghilotti’s project leaders aside and asked them to have their drivers slow down. The focus on the dump trucks is part of the highway patrol’s community-oriented approach to policing West Marin, as officers try to be responsive to resident concerns.

“This is such a boondoggle,” said Ken Levin, the president of the Point Reyes Station Village Association. “The number of trucks, the amount of fuel, they’re going on narrow roads and creating disruption right through town. It’s crazy. Everybody I talk to that has to drive the road is upset by it.”

It’s puzzling that only three speeding tickets have been issued, Mr. Barclay said. He offered a couple of explanations: One, the trucks sound like they’re going fast because of their size and load, but in reality, they are traveling under the speed limit. Or two, the drivers are spotting officers and radioing to other drivers to alert them. 

The company’s project manager, area superintendent and spokesperson did not respond to several calls over the last month from the Light.

On Nov. 4, a lowboy trailer carrying an asphalt grinder wreaked havoc on its return from the construction site. A chain broke free, sending the asphalt grinder’s conveyer belt swinging through the air. The driver toppled four county road signs and damaged three PG&E poles, including one that fell across the road. Nobody could leave Inverness for about two hours, and the town was without power for the day.

Despite a pickup truck leading him, the driver didn’t notice there was a problem until some residents on a walk stopped him. The highway patrol investigated the incident but found no violation. The driver swore the chain was secured when he left, and officers couldn’t determine if the chain failed or was left unsecured. Either way, the subcontractor, Jacob Slaight Heavy Hauling, will pay for the damages. Mr. Slaight had no comment while he awaited the incident report. 

The backlash to the occupying presence of large vehicles has been strong, but Supervisor Dennis Rodoni said the project is a good use of public funds to repair a county road. The Federal Lands Access Program is contributing $22.4 million, 84 percent of the project cost.

The project is about halfway done and is anticipated for completion in October 2021, according to Doug Hecox, a spokesman for the Federal Highways Administration.