October 21st, 2010
UDOT PORT WORKER KEEPS WATCHStrengthen the Economy, Zero Fatalities, by Catherine Higgins.
Vic Saunders, Public Involvement Manager in Region One sent this great story about Leona Dalley, supervisor at the Perry Port of Entry. I want to meet this wonder woman. She works hard at her job, understands her important role and takes on challenges with enthusiasm and a smile. But, where’s her cape? You go, Leona! CH
Ports Of Entry: Keeping Watch Over State’s Highways
Leona Dalley’s eyes brightened as she told me the nature of her job.
“Sure I’ll tell you what my responsibilities are,” she beamed. “I protect the state’s highways.”
“I protect the state’s highways.” That’s quite the personal manifesto, and I’ve thought about it many times since I spoke with her. But you can tell by spending any time with Dalley that she means exactly what she says.
An 18 year veteran of the Utah Motor Carrier (UMC) Division of the Utah Department of Transportation, Dalley’s nomadic career path has taken her from the bottom of the state to the top, down to the middle and back to the top again. She served at Ports of Entry in Kanab and Echo, before moving to the UMC headquarters in Salt Lake City. Finally, she snagged her present post as Supervisor of the Perry Port of Entry, a spot she has very ably filled for the past 11 years, and you can tell by the twinkle in her eyes that it’s a job she really believes in.
“We protect the physical capabilities of our state’s highways to facilitate commerce,” she explained one afternoon this past summer, as we watched a steady parade of interstate and local commercial trucks stream across Perry’s scales. “Transportation, these highways, is really important to the economy of this state and this country.
“And, I just don’t see that changing any time soon.”
A lot is being written these days about railroads taking back the millions of gross tons of freight lost to trucks in the 1950s with the advent of the Interstate Highway System, which continued right on into the 1960s and `70s. The Staggers Rail Act, passed by Congress in 1980, deregulated the American railroad industry and opened the way for all that freight to begin moving back to the rails. But, with the railroads needing major rebuilding of their infrastructure before such a shift could ever occur, trucks have continued, for the time being, as the primary hauler of America’s goods.
This makes Ports of Entry, like the one on I-15 in Perry, all the more important in making sure those trucks play by the rules as they roll down the highway. But doesn’t the sheer crush of truck after truck seem overwhelming to Dalley and her staff? “Oh, there are challenges, no doubt about it,” she said.
“We have budgetary challenges and the challenges of the constant change in the trucking industry. We are challenged to maintain the manpower we need to efficiently operate this facility,” she reflected. “I have a great crew who work very hard, and every one of them cares so much about the job they perform and the things they do each day.”
Like making thousands of snap judgments on the fly. All day long, as the trucks roll by their glass-encased control room, the Port of Entry staffers make snap judgments again and again regarding the “look” of the loads they see. Trained eyes notice something amiss here, a little “heavier than should be” weight there. A push of a button and the dreaded red light flicks on the status board over the roadway, along with a message to the driver to park and come in for a chat.
Some of these trucks have been on the road a while, and drivers can
get a little chapped when they’re asked to park and shut down their rig, and lose valuable time. Emotions may run high at times like this, but Dalley says she and her staff are committed to handling each situation as honestly and straight-forwardly as they can.
“One bad experience by a trucker or shipper at this port affects driver interactions with every other port in the state,” she explained. “So, at this Port of Entry, we have made it our policy to conduct ourselves professionally, no matter what, or how something may be said to us.”
“That can be very hard to do sometimes, especially with those operators we see on a regular basis. They don’t always understand why we won’t just ‘give ‘em a pass this time.”
As the non-stop river of trucks flowed by, I asked Dalley how the Ports of Entry can possibly keep up the pace. She said new technologies, such as “PrePass,” certainly streamline the flow of trucks.
PrePass is an electronic system that automatically verifies safety, credentials, and weight of commercial vehicles at participating Ports of Entry, weigh stations, vehicle inspection and agricultural interdiction facilities. Cleared vehicles are able to roll past these facilities at highway speeds without stopping. Dalley said this means greater efficiency for shippers, improved safety for motorists, and survival for her.
“We process over 10,000 trucks per day here, and without technology like PrePass, there is just no way we could get all of the trucks on the highway through,” she explained. “It’s really a great sorting tool, allowing qualifying carriers to proceed down the highway. Then we can spend our time on those that need a closer look.”
When she must take a driver “out of service” for any reason, Dalley says it’s always a big decision. “We understand the difference between being ‘carrier-friendly’ and being professional,” she noted. “Sometimes drivers don’t like this decision and they get a little put out by it.
“My staff and I have been trained well and we know what to do,” she continued. “We take care of each other, we back each other up. But above everything else, we stay professional about it and do our job.
“We always do our job.”
As I wrapped up the interview, I thanked her for her time and headed for the door. But she wasn’t finished with me yet. Leona Dalley just could not resist taking one more opportunity to remind me about the importance of her job.
“We work very hard to protect the safety, protect the infrastructure, and facilitate commerce on our state’s highways,” she said. “We say that to ourselves everyday when we report to work, and we really believe it.”
“I go home from this job knowing that I’ve done something really good today,” she said positively.
And you know what? I really believe her. — Vic Saunders