Truckers in Florida bypass weigh-ins

Truckers in Florida bypass weigh-ins

Attached to the windshield, the PrePass transponder is read by a roadside reader nearly a mile before the weigh station and tells the driver whether to stop or not.

The Florida Transportation Department is working to keep truckers on the road to increase safety and stem traffic congestion. Big rigs can roll steadily through the state instead of stopping at weigh stations because of a new intelligent transportation system launched last fall and officially kicked off Aug. 10.

The department has implemented the PrePass system from Heavy Vehicle Electronic License Plate (HELP) Inc. of Phoenix at five sites throughout Florida and plans to open four more PrePass sites by the end of next year. Once the final three sites are installed along Interstate 10, truckers will be able to drive from Jacksonville, Fla., to San Diego using the PrePass system.

Hired help

HELP is a consortium of states and companies that have formed a nonprofit enterprise to deploy advanced transportation technologies. It resembles toll authorities that operate in many states. HELP teamed with Lockheed Martin Corp.'s IMS division, which was sold to Affiliated Computer Services Inc. of Dallas in July, to provide the toll services.

Florida hired HELP and Lockheed Martin IMS to install, run and maintain the system. Lockheed charges truckers 99 cents for every weigh station pass but asks the states for no money.

'From an economic standpoint it made perfect sense,' said Marcel Tart, ITS administrator for motor carrier compliance for Florida's Transportation Department Motor Carrier Compliance Office. 'The systems cost the state nothing and are in line with the Gov. Bush's goal to privatize as many of the state's functions as possible.'

Florida is the first East Coast state to install the system and joins 19 others using PrePass.

Truckers voluntarily sign up to receive a transponder that attaches to their vehicle's windshield. A roadside reader placed two-thirds of a mile before each weigh station reads the transponder and sends the truck's identity and compliance information to the weigh station via radio.

There, clearance software running on PCs checks to see if the truck's information is up-to-date. If so, the truck gets a green light and a tone to continue along the highway.

If there is a problem with the information, the truck gets a red light and a different tone and must pull into the weigh station. The entire process typically takes less than two seconds and allows the truck to maintain a speed of 45mph.

Keep them moving

Tart said trucks that receive green lights do not pose a traffic hazard because they continue driving at highway speed. By contrast, a truck that must pull off to be weighed and then pull back on can't regain highway speed quickly. That can cause congestion and be a safety hazard, Tart said. The system also saves the trucking companies time and money.

The clearance software, which was written in C by Lockheed Martin, runs under Unix on PCs with 166-MHz Pentium processors and 32M of RAM. The roadside readers run embedded software under MS-DOS.

Prepass downloads trucking company data into each station's system from a main server housed in Rockville, Md. State requirements for truck information vary, but most states require proof of insurance, U.S. Transportation Department identification numbers, and verification of operating permits and background checks.

Online Database Server 7.4 software from Informix Corp. of Menlo Park, Calif., holds all participants' data at the main server. The program runs under Unix on a Hewlett-Packard 9000 series server.

'This system really is nonintrusive for the state and will make the highways safer and less congested,' Tart said.

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