ITD: Work on N. Lewiston traffic island is making way for mega-loads

Contractor is leveling traffic island near rose garden in preparation for mega-load transport from port to U.S. 12

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A ConocoPhillips contractor is still readying to haul four mega-loads across Idaho’s panhandle, even though the cargo has been stranded for about two weeks at the Port of Lewiston because of a court case.

Emmert International, which is moving the oil refinery equipment for ConocoPhillips, is flattening a portion of a raised traffic island on U.S. Highway 12/95 in North Lewiston, said Mel Coulter, a spokesman for the Idaho Transportation Department in Boise.

The island separates north and south traffic at the intersection of U.S. Highway 12/95 and Old North-South Highway near the rose garden, Coulter said. “There will be no changes in traffic patterns or configurations.”

Leveling a part of the island would allow the loads to go from the Port of Lewiston along Down River Road to the Old North-South Highway, where they would turn left onto U.S. Highway 12/95, Coulter said.

Then they would travel a short distance on Highway 12/95 before going onto Frontage Road. The loads would enter the highway near a rest stop just east of Flying J, bound for a refinery in Billings, Mont., Coulter said.

In taking Frontage Road, the 23- to 27-foot-tall loads would bypass an overhead sign that directs motorists to U.S. 95 north if they’re going to Moscow or Pullman, or U.S. 12/95 south if they’re heading to Boise, Coulter said.

The project is being paid for entirely by Emmert International, Coulter said. “When they’re done, they’ll be responsible for putting in new curb and replacing the island to our specifications.”

The work is occurring as the shipments have been blocked by litigation filed in Idaho County by area business owners who allege the loads could pose safety issues, diminish tourism and threaten the pristine river corridor along which they would travel.

The loads, which are 29 feet wide and 185 to 227 feet long, would consume two lanes of traffic as they traveled at night, pulling over every 15 minutes to allow traffic to pass.

Second District Judge John Bradbury revoked the permits ITD issued for the loads and sent the case back to the agency to address issues such as how long the trucks could go before taking breaks to let motorists get around them.

His decision has been appealed by ITD and ConocoPhillips. The Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in the case on Oct. 1.

“The work that is being done is in preparation for transporting those loads if and when they’re allowed to move,” Coulter said. “It’s based on something that might or might not happen.”

ConocoPhillips isn’t the only oil company that would like to use the route for oversized cargo. Imperial Oil has plans to send more than 200 loads on Highway 12 from the Port of Lewiston bound for the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada. ITD has issued no permits for the hauls that could start in November.

Williams may be contacted at [email protected] or (208) 848-2261.