A dramatic surge in northbound truck traffic along U.S. 101 in the last month has swamped the state weigh station atop the Conejo Grade, forcing truckers to begin lining up as far as a mile away and prompting police to shut the scales several times a day to clear the congestion.
Officials have no explanation for the backup, which they describe as the worst in recent years, but theories range from a sudden influx of dirt haulers to increased agricultural traffic to time-consuming safety inspections at the station.
The result has been frustration for many truck companies, a potential hazard on the freeway and concern about the hundreds of rigs that officers are forced to wave by almost every day without being weighed. Officers are normally forced to shut the scales only two or three times a month because of heavy traffic, but now have been turning away trucks for periods of 10 or 15 minutes as often as three or four times a day.
"This is the worst I've ever seen it," said Gary Cheatley, a dispatcher at Consolidated Freightways in Camarillo. "It's getting out of hand in Ventura County."
The California Highway Patrol, which operates the station, says it is most concerned about the line of trucks that at times has extended all the way down to Wendy Drive in Newbury Park, a mile south of the scales.
Although the rigs are able to wait in an exiting lane that borders the right shoulder, officers say they would rather let the truckers pass by without inspection than risk a rear-end collision with motorists entering the freeway from the Wendy Drive ramp.
"We'd like to weigh every truck, but with the equipment we have at this time, it's just not possible," Sgt. Terry Carroll said. "We can't let them back all the way down the hill waiting."
Some trucking companies, however, contend that the blame for the delays lies with the CHP, which they say nit-picks about paper work and the condition of the vehicles.
"They're looking for major stuff, which is good, but if they can't find it, they'll pick at any little thing," said Gary Bridges, a mechanic for GI Trucking in Camarillo. "A lot of it's new laws that nobody's familiar with."
But officers say safety is their top concern at the station, which serves as a checkpoint before truckers barrel down the steep 6% grade to Camarillo.
In February, which officers described as an average month, 32,488 trucks passed through the horseshoe-shaped station, which is open 24 hours a day, Monday through Friday. It is the only northbound weigh station on U.S. 101 between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Loaded trucks file at 3 m.p.h. through one lane, passing over a scale that provides officers with a digital readout of the weight on each axle. Empty trucks file through another lane at 5 m.p.h., facing just a speed bump that confirms by the sound of hitting it that no load is being carried.
In addition, the station has two inspection bays, where trucks are checked for faulty brakes, tire wear and other safety problems. Because the inspections last 10 to 15 minutes, only one of every 30 trucks is pulled from the line and checked.
In February, about 300 trucks were cited for being overweight when they passed through the station. Another 400 were cited for safety violations, usually poorly adjusted brakes.
"Just keeping the honest people honest," remarked Officer Ken Farr, one of the inspectors.