By George Slaughter
Given Katy’s growth, it’s to be expected that commercial motor vehicles (CMVs)—concrete trucks, construction trucks, dump trucks, and 18-wheelers—are on the streets. But not all roads and bridges are graded for some CMVs. In other cases, trucks can be overloaded and spill debris. Roads get damaged and other safety issues might arise.
“Trucks are not made to carry 100,000 pounds,” Mayor Chuck Brawner said. “Drivers and the owners of trucks get paid by the load and how much material they bring.”
Katy city officials are working with the Texas Legislature to address these issues, which according to Katy Police Department Captain Byron Woytek, have been festering for a couple of years.
Brawner tells the story of how he was recently driving southbound along Cane Island Parkway, stopping at a red light at the Highway 90 intersection. Meanwhile, he said, coming down Highway 90 was an 18-wheeler, carrying gravel or sand. Brawner’s light turned green, but he didn’t immediately proceed because the truck didn’t immediately stop.
“He was having a hard time slowing down,” Brawner said. “He barely made the stop without entering the intersection.”
Some areas around Katy facing this issue are Avenue D, the Cane Island Parkway, FM 1463, and Morton Road, but Woytek said all streets are affected. Bill Hastings, the former police chief, said that Katyland Drive was also facing this issue, but it “kind of slowed down” recently.
Part of this problem involves the law itself. Katy doesn’t currently meet the criteria in the Texas traffic code to have a CMV-certified enforcement officer, who addresses such issues as hazardous materials, motor safety, and weight.
“If the city doesn’t meet that criteria, you have to go to your representative and get that written,” Woytek said.
Early last year, Hastings said the city worked with state Rep. Mike Schofield, R-Houston, whose district includes much of Katy, about getting the law changed. Hastings said Schofield seemed hopeful that the law could be amended before the Legislature convened for its regular session in January this year, but things didn’t work out that way. In any event, Schofield lost his re-election bid last November.
Last week, the Texas Senate passed a bill that will enable Katy to meet the criteria to hire a CMV-certified officer.
“It moved at lighting speed,” Brawner said. “In less than a week, they voted it out of committee and passed it. (Sen.) Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) got it done.”
A separate bill is in the House of Representatives. Brawner said that bill was approved by the House Transportation Committee but concerns have been raised about other jurisdictions with similar arrangements.
Brawner said both the Senate and House bills focus just on Katy and the Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to sign the final legislation.
“We will file every report required by the state,” Brawner said. “It’s not a revenue generator for us, but it’s a safety issue.”
Another part of the problem involved who actually enforces the CMV-related laws.
“A lot of people are under the impression that any officer can do it, but there’s a strict process they have to go through,” Woytek said. “Only selected officers can enforce these particular laws. It’s all regulated by the state. They have a whole lot of issues they can enforce that we can’t. A regular officer cannot stop a truck for safety issues because we don’t have the authority to be able to do that.”
Hastings said the police department requested eight new officers during last year’s budget meetings. Of those positions, one would be a detective, one would be a property room officer, and the other six would be patrol officers. One of those patrol officers, Hastings said, would transfer to the CMV enforcement role.
However, Hastings said, City Administrator Byron Hebert said the police could have seven positions, which Hastings agreed to because the CMV enforcement officer position wouldn’t be made official until this September, after the law had been changed.
The city council in September adopted a $28.5 million 2018-19, providing for seven new officers while keeping the tax rate the same as last year’s rate.
When hiring a CMV enforcement officer, two immediate options come to mind.
First, the department could find an internal candidate, in which case he or she must undergo the necessary training, which Woytek said he believed it would take three months to complete. The Texas Department of Transportation supervises the training, and the certifications come from both the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Texas Department of Public Safety.
“We’re already in the process of taking any officers that are working for us that are interested in having this position,” Brawner said.
“We want to get ahead of that game, get them in the school, get them the books they need” and so forth, so everything is ready when the updated law goes into effect, Brawner said.
Another option is for the department to recruit or hire an already-certified officer employed in another police department. Woytek said each method had its advantages.
Hastings said it was “always possible” to bring in someone from the outside, but added he would have concerns about morale if people within the department wanted the opportunity but were overlooked.
Brawner said he was excited about having things come to fruition with a new CMV-certified officer, and added that whoever fills the position, he or she would be a regular Katy patrol officer and deal with routine patrol officer issues as needed.
“People I’ve spoken with in recent weeks are very appreciative of what we’re trying to do, and that’s protect their safety,” Brawner said.