Getting unstuck from one of the new roundabouts on Rt. 9 in Hillsboro following a June 25 mishap didn’t clear the way for the massive generator to reach its destination at an Ashburn-area data center.
In fact, nearly two weeks later, it still hasn’t completed its journey. And the trucking company has been hit with high towing fees and Sheriff’s Office fines—surpassing $100,000. For 12 days, the rig sat in a Purcellville industrial park, pending the payment of a five-figure towing bill. And when it rolled out on Tuesday morning, following a round of corrective maintenance, Sheriff’s Office inspectors pulled it over again just a few miles down Rt. 7. Following a more than 6-hour inspection, the rig again was cited for violations and put out of service.
Rick Diggs, the president of the Florida-based trucking company hired for the haul, said he’s never had such an experience in his 20 years in the industry. He has appealed to everyone from town leaders in Hillsboro and Purcellville to the Attorney General’s Office to help. In a June 30 email he sent to the Loudoun Board of Supervisors, Del. Dave LaRock (R-33), U.S. Senator Mark Warner’s office and town leaders in Purcellville and Hillsboro he characterized the fee being charged as “extortion.”
Before June 25, the generator was just a routine transport, coming from Wisconsin to Loudoun’s Data Center alley, part of a multi-job contract. A wrong turn or a construction detour got the 8-axle rig off its intended route and onto Rt. 9 with no place to turn around. The newly completed roundabout at the west side of Hillsboro ended the trip, as the driver, with 30 years of experience, was unable to navigate the circle and the trailer became lodged on the stone walls.
At the scene, Sheriff’s Office inspectors cited the rig for inadequate breaks and permit violations. It was put out of service and Road Runner was called to tow it away, although it was driven, not towed, to the company’s nearby Purcellville office. The Sheriff’s Office fines exceeded $30,000 and the towing and storage bill was another $50,000.
Diggs spent several days trying to negotiate a lower tow charge, initially offering $4,000. By Friday, he found no alternative but to pay the bill, and held hope of pleading his case for a more reasonable fee later in civil court. The county government has a towing advisory board where one might take such a complaint, but the owner of the towing company chairs that panel, which works closely with the Sheriff’s Office.
Next, he called a mobile mechanic to make the repairs cited by the Sheriff’s Office, another $3,000. At 6:30 Tuesday morning the rig was back on the road and headed to its destination on Shellhorn Road. But just past Clarke’s Gap on Rt. 7 the driver and his two guide vehicles were stopped again by the same Sheriff’s Office inspection team. The driver was told they were alerted by a 911 call saying there were sparks coming from underneath, although it was unclear how they arrived at the position to intercept them so quickly.
The Sheriff’s Office refutes Digg’s characterization of the July 6 inspection.
Spokeswoman Michele Bowman said patrol deputies initially responded the area of Rt. 7 and White Gate Place after a 6:41 a.m. 911 call in which caller stated a “tractor trailer was creating sparks and now the back is on fire.” The deputy making the stop then made the request for the agency’s Motor Carrier Safety Units to assist. They responded to the scene from Rt. 50 in the Aldie area.
As a result of the second inspection, the rig was again cited for overweight and hauling permit violations because the front escort vehicle did not have a height pole and the rear escort vehicle did meet required standards, and the permit was issued to a different company. Two safety violations also were found, putting the tractor-trailer out of service.
Diggs said he declined the deputies’ suggestion to have Road Runner tow it again and called another company.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this before,” Diggs said, noting his company operates all across the country and regularly in Virginia. “Things happen, but there are too many things going in this situation.”
Diggs’ company may be coming through Loudoun a lot less. In addition, having to pay for the idle time of cranes waiting to install the transformer at the data center site, he lost the contract on seven more future loads.