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Heavy truck loads a problem?

Truckers bypass weigh stations as firms look for solutions to a lack of manpower and high fuel costs.

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Around Mars Hill, N.C., truckers keep up a steady chatter of warnings on the CB about the weather, traffic, and "bears" – police – looking for overweight loads.

Even with 200 state truck inspectors out on the roads, some local-run truckers in Florida routinely overload their trailers and dump trucks, to make up for hard-to-find manpower and the $3.20 they pay for each gallon of diesel. In Pennsylvania, citizens complain about roads sagging and bridges groaning under the pressure from overweight trucks dodging interstate weigh stations.

The cat-and-mouse game between cheating truckers and state inspectors is intensifying on America's highways, especially as investigators continue to look for the cause of the Minneapolis bridge collapse in August. Critics say 50-ton trucks, protected by a powerful lobby, don't pay their fair share to fix aging and ailing infrastructure. But for some men and women driving big rigs, heavy loads on America's back roadways are just business as usual under current rules and economic circumstances, not to mention the pressures of keeping store shelves stocked with inexpensive goods.

"What we're experiencing is that [trucking companies and drivers] are consciously making a decision to run heavier and taking the risk of being caught instead of paying extra manpower costs or buying additional vehicles," says Sgt. John Fairchild, a North Carolina Highway Patrol spokesman in Asheville, whose troop spent three days last week hunting down too-heavy trucks near the Tennessee border.

Economists say the incentive to cheat is increasing as the trucking industry faces rising fuel costs, a rail-freight industry on the rebound, and, next July, the potential loosening of restrictions on truckers coming from Mexico.

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