Idaho Transportation Department looks at plans for hauling on U.S. Highway 12

By William L. Spence of the Tribune

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Idaho Transportation Department continues to evaluate plans for moving about 200 oversized truck loads of processing equipment from Lewiston to Montana along U.S. Highway 12.

The South Korean-built equipment is destined for the Kearl oil sands project, an $8 billion open pit bitumen mine being developed by Imperial Oil and Exxon Mobil Corp. near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada.

Imperial Oil wants to barge the equipment to the Port of Lewiston beginning this fall, and then transport it east along U.S. Highway 12 before turning north. The shipments would be spaced out over a 12-month period.

The Idaho Transportation Board received an update on the proposal from District 2 Maintenance Engineer Doral Hoff during a meeting in Lewiston on Thursday.

Hoff said the department is handling this proposal the same way it’s handled other over-sized shipments the last 10 years. The company’s traffic control plan will be evaluated, and each load will be analyzed and permitted separately. The dimensions of the load, number of truck axles and weight distribution will be checked to make sure bridges and roadways won’t be damaged.

“The only thing we’d be looking at doing differently (for these loads) is moving at night,” Hoff said.

Trucks would be on the road from about 11 p.m. to 5:30 a.m., to minimize traffic disruptions, he said. They would make the trip in three stages, traveling from Lewiston to Orofino one night, then on to about milepost 147 the next before reaching Montana on the third leg.

The state limits any traffic delays to a maximum of 15 minutes, Hoff said. Flaggers would move out ahead of each shipment and stop oncoming vehicles four to six miles down the road. The trucks would then proceed – averaging about 22 to 28 miles per hour – before pulling into a turnout to provide traffic relief. Flaggers would then move back out in front and the shipment would continue to leapfrog in that fashion the entire trip.

U.S. 12 has at least 55 turnouts in the 170 miles between Lewiston and the border, Hoff said. The average amount of highway traffic that time of night is 25 to 50 vehicles.

Ken Johnson, a member of Imperial Oil’s project management team, said the loads are so big they’ll require two tractors – one at the front and one at the rear.

“The maximum length for any shipment, including the two trucks, is about 210 feet,” he said. “The shortest is about 170 feet. They’ll all be on steerable trailer systems, where each axle and wheel can be steered independently.”

The heaviest load is about 344,000 pounds, he said. Including the two trucks, the weight would approach 580,000 pounds. By contrast, a typical tractor trailer load might weigh 80,000 pounds and be about 90 feet long.

“We’ve been working with ITD on this for about two years, making sure we understand the state requirements and that we can comply,” Johnson said.

Spence may be contacted at [email protected] or (208) 848-2274.