FOTB: Trooper Kent protects oil field roads
WILLISTON -- Trooper Neil Kent isn't afraid to take on the heavyweights.
Kent, stationed with the North Dakota Highway Patrol's Williston district, spends the bulk of his time monitoring the busy truck traffic and enforcing weight restrictions.
His job is important to maintaining the state's roads, which are designed to handle a certain amount of weight.
When trucks are overweight, "it causes roads to wear out sooner and have to be replaced faster," Kent said.
Damage to roads caused by overweight trucks also creates safety hazards for other motorists.
Kent, along with troopers Brett Mlynar and Myles Sundby, recently received the Highway Patrol Award of Excellence for giving 412 overload violations in 2011 totaling nearly $1.3 million.
Overload violations issued by troopers statewide in 2011 totaled $1.9 million.
Highway Patrol Sgt. Darcy Aberle said the troopers in the Williston district are on pace to beat last year's numbers.
"All of our truck guys are doing an excellent job," Aberle said.
Traffic counts on segments of highways in western North Dakota show there were about 1,600 trucks per day in 2011, compared to about 850 per day in 2009-2010, according to the North Dakota Department of Transportation.
The North Dakota Highway Patrol now has 15 troopers that focus on truck enforcement, with 11 of them stationed in western North Dakota.
Kent, who joined the North Dakota Highway Patrol in July 2010, didn't know much about trucks and weight restrictions before he became a trooper.
Previously, Kent was a park ranger for Perrot State Park in Wisconsin. But that was a part-time job and finding full-time employment in Wisconsin was difficult.
After moving to North Dakota and becoming a trooper, Kent quickly picked up on the typical routes truck drivers take in the oil field.
And he knows what clues indicate that a truck is likely overweight.
Kent looks for trucks that slow down at the top of hills and trucks that emit dark exhaust. If a trailer is bouncing up and down, he knows it's empty.
About 80 percent of the trucks Kent pulls over are overweight.
Drivers then have to either correct the weight or find an alternate route.
Most drivers understand when Kent has to pull them over and check their weight.
"There's very few that are upset about it," Kent said. "They usually understand that they're trying to do their job and we're trying to do our job. This is how we meet sometimes."
The largest fine Kent has issued is $13,000 for a truck that was hauling a piece of oil field equipment on a restricted road without a permit.
In addition to truck enforcement, Kent spends a lot of time responding to vehicle crashes.
Most are caused by motorists who fail to yield, drive too quickly for conditions or have been drinking alcohol, he said.
"Some days we're just so busy you feel like you're being torn two, three different ways," Kent said.
Dalrymple is a reporter stationed in the Oil Patch for Forum Communications Co.