SIC 4785

This category covers establishments primarily engaged in the inspection and weighing of goods in connection with transportation or in the operation of fixed facilities for motor vehicle transportation, such as toll roads, highway bridges, and other fixed facilities, except terminals. Included in this industry category are companies that check boat cargo before it is transported on trucks; operate highway bridges, tunnels, and toll bridges; operate truck weighing stations; and conduct various inspections. It encompasses firms that serve private facilities as well as companies that contract to perform services for state and federal regulatory agencies.

NAICS Code(s)

488390 (Other Support Activities for Water Transportation)

488490 (Other Support Activities for Road Transportation)

Because it is dominated by private, localized firms, statistical data for this industry is sparse. Served by the International Bridge, Tunnel, and Turnpike Association (IBTTA), the industry is largely driven by the need to monitor, for both trade and regulatory purposes, the multi-billion dollar U.S. trucking industry. The U.S. Industry and Trade Oulook reported that there were 450,000 motor carriers operating from state to state, in addition to the thousands of in-state only carriers. Large trucks travel 124 billion miles each year. Truckers pay more than one-third of highway tolls. With 3.9 million miles of roads, including 45,000 miles of interstate highways in the 1990s, numerous enterprises emerged to operate infrastructure, such as toll bridges, and to help enforce a glut of government restrictions. As of 1999, there were 4,715 miles of rural/urban toll roads and 4,533 miles of the national highway system under toll.

At the federal level, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) are the primary sources of industry regulations, and often employ contractors to enforce their codes. Among other duties, the DOT is responsible for maintaining the highway system and developing and enforcing safety measures. The DOT's Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MC-SAP) of 1982, for example, conducts annual safety inspections of many of the nation's 250,000 large trucks. The ICC regulates carrier rates and services and enforces weight and size restrictions on trucks that use interstate highways. During the latter part of the 1990s, several states were implementing the Commercial Vehicle Information Systems and Networks (CVISN), an automated electronic system for screening trucks in lieu of having them stop for weight and safety inspections. The nationally-standardized system is expected to decrease congestion at weigh stations and more efficiently target high-risk operators.

Commercial trucking has been an important mode of commercial transportation in the United States since the 1930s. The ICC, which was formed in 1887, began regulating the industry in 1935 under the Motor Carrier Act. It was not until the 1950s and 1960s, however, that a large inspection and weighing industry emerged to monitor the trucking industry, which was booming. When the DOT was established in 1966, a profusion of new rules were developed that created a need for commercial motor vehicle inspection and weighing services.

Although the use of motor vehicles for the transport of commercial goods increased significantly during the 1980s and early 1990s, the trend since the early 1980s had been toward federal deregulation. The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) of 1991 mandated uniform state standards that substantially reduced the need for many types of interstate inspection services by the late 1990s. On the other hand, new opportunities for government contractors will likely arise from expanding DOT commercial transport safety programs.

Companies that operate toll roads, bridges, and tunnels benefited from growing trucking activity throughout the 1990s. Although railroad and plane commercial shipping industries were becoming more competitive, the trucking industry was benefiting from reduced regulations and the integration of new information systems that were boosting efficiency. Advanced satellite systems, for example, had been launched early in the decade to track and coordinate truck transportation networks.

The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) expired in 2003, and alternative funding sources for highway projects had not been identified into the following year. But by 2004, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) expected to begin phasing out the gas tax and using tolls as a principle means of road financing. Toll projects were viewed as superior to many other alternatives, because they are generally cost effective both in terms of construction and user cost, in addition to relatively fast installation periods. Technologies such as electronic toll collection (EZ Pass) were praised as a way for not disturbing traffic flow.

Commercial truckers were expected to boost their 80 percent share of the U.S. freight industry. However, job growth in the weighing and inspection industry was expected to diminish because of labor-saving automation, such as bar-code scanners and vehicle tracking information systems. Automation will reduce toll road and bridge operation jobs as well. In 1999, there were 118 toll facilities that operated with electronic technology, up from 49 in 1995. During the 2000s, the trend was for technology to continue to take over many aspects of the weigh station industry. By 2003, states such as Louisiana were installing weigh-in-motion devices that measured truck height, weight, and axles while the truck was in motion, eliminating the need for drivers to stop at weigh stations.

Other technologies expected to be implemented on a wide scale early in the new millennium include infrared inspections, which use infrared "guns" aimed at passing trucks to check for faulty brakes, exhaust leaks, over-inflated tires, and other hazardous conditions. Collision-warning devices—radar-activated flashing lights which signal when a truck is advancing too quickly on a car or when a truck is about to veer into a car hidden in its blind spot—also are expected to enhance the safety of transportation on the nation's roads.

Further Reading

"About IBTTA." Washington, D.C.: International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association. 23 March 2004. Available from .

Jones, Patrick D. "Tolls Can Bridge Funding Gap." Traffic World, 1 March 2004.

Kuhar, Mark S. "On the Trail of a Scale." Pit & Quarry, May 2003.

"LA Dept. of Transportation to Install Weigh-In-Motion Systems." New Orleans City Business, 13 January 2003.

"Most Say Gas Taxes on Way Out, Tolls Coming In." IBTTA Finance Conference DC, 9 March 2004. Available from .

U.S. Industry and Trade Outlook. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2000.

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