Fife city leaders, Port concerned over truck safety

Two traffic studies conducted last year by the Fife Police Department have raised concerns about the safety of container trucks leaving the Port of Tacoma, according to a discussion Feb. 1 during a joint study session between the City of Fife and port commissioners.

The issue arose after police officers noticed a spike in the number of accidents involving container trucks on Pacific Highway East, which runs through the city. Officers operated emphasis patrols on Sept. 23 and Oct. 25 to inspect container trucks, and discovered that a number of vehicles operated in violation of safety laws.

On Sept. 23, police officers inspected 30 vehicles in 7 hours and found 90 violations. Officers issued 71 written warnings and 19 formal notices of infractions. Fourteen orders were issued placing vehicles out of service.

On Oct. 25, police officers inspected 25 vehicles in 7 hours and found 71 violations. Officers issued 61 written warnings and 10 notices of infractions. Nine orders were issued placing vehicles out of service.

During Wednesday’s study session, police officer Dennis Diess shared photographs of some of the safety concerns discovered during the inspections, including broken slack adjusters, bent suspension brackets, cracked frames, defective steering, faulty brakes, and sliced inner side walls.

Brake concerns such as defective low-air warning devices, inoperable braking devices, air leaks, worn air lines, and brakes out of adjustment posed the biggest worry for police officers. During inspections on Oct. 25, 45 percent of the violations were related to brakes.

“We’re looking for safe and efficient movement of containers in and out of the port,” said Fife Police Chief Brad Blackburn.

According to port commissioners, many container trucks are privately owned and operated, making it difficult to enforce a safety standard. Though the port works closely with shippers and terminal operators, it is less involved with independent truckers.

Still, port commissioners and staff were alarmed by the findings.
“No one should accept that kind of performance on the road,” said Port Executive Director Timothy J. Farrell. “This is exactly the kind of issue we need to take up.”

Chief Blackburn said police officers have shared their concerns with trucking companies. “We have gone back to specific companies and said, ‘We have a safety problem here.’”

Commissioner Dick Marzano suggested working with terminal operators at the port to address the safety concerns. According to Marzano, terminal operators could require truck drivers to maintain their vehicles in order continue doing business.

“I think there’s work we need to look into doing with regard to the operators,” said Farrell.

Fife is a busy hub for trucks entering and leaving the port. The city has 10 routes designated for truckers: Pacific Highway East/SR99; 54th north of 20th Street; Alexander Ave. north of Pacific Highway East; Port of Tacoma Road; 20th Street west of 54th and east of 70th; 70th Ave; Valley Ave east of 70th; Levee Road; Frank Albert Road; and Industry Drive.