Massive load stops at Orofino

Controversial transport of megaload on U.S. 12 may be first of hundreds if permits are issued

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune

Thursday, February 3, 2011
PINK HOUSE CAMPGROUND – The most massive cargo ever hauled on U.S. Highway 12 arrived at the outskirts of Orofino at 3:15 a.m. Wednesday, about 5 1/4 hours after it left Lewiston.

The megaload, hauling half a coke drum bound for a ConocoPhillips refinery in Billings, Mont., might be the first of hundreds of similarly sized transports to use the road – sparking one of the most contentious debates in the region.

Opponents wondered how a 226-foot-long, 29-foot-wide rig weighing about 300 tons could negotiate a road that challenges some motorists. They were also concerned about how it would be possible for vehicles to get around the load that took up two lanes of traffic.

The convoy’s journey progressed with only minor issues, such as having the tires carrying the load scruffed against a guardrail on Frontage Road in Lewiston, according to the Idaho State Police. The guardrail was not damaged.

“We’re very pleased,” said Bill Stephens, a spokesman for ConocoPhillips. “It was an excellent first night.”

Crews expected to avoid similar difficulties Wednesday night as the oversized load departed for the second of its four-night journey to Montana.

Opponents say two of the toughest curves to navigate for the load were on the portion of the route from Wednesday night to this morning.

Stephens anticipated the logistics working even better. Crews made “mechanical adjustments” in the first hour Tuesday when the load was inching toward U.S. 12, Stephens said.

They were also paying close attention to how the brakes were functioning, said Adam Rush, a spokesman for the Idaho Transportation Department.

The haul team has three contractors. Emmert International is overseeing the transport, another provides pilot cars and the third provides flaggers, Stephens said.

Until this week, they had never worked together, Stephens said. One goal was to improve on traffic delays, which according to ISP, averaged 11 minutes.

Several unique challenges faced crews the first night of travel, including crossing the Arrow Bridge 15 miles east of Lewiston. The oversized shipment arrived at the longest bridge it will traverse in Idaho at about 12:30 a.m. Wednesday. Additional wheels were placed underneath the load already supported by 96 tires, and in about 20 minutes it started moving across the bridge.

It moved so slowly at least five walking crew members had no trouble keeping pace. It stopped once and crews checked something before it made it to the other side in about 10 minutes. Then the additional wheels were removed and the load resumed its trip.

What happened on the Arrow Bridge was a concern for many. It was only last summer an 18-inch crack in a steel girder was repaired during a rehabilitation project. Some wondered how long adding the wheels would take.

How fast the load traveled varied with the terrain. ISP reported its maximum speed was about 25 mph on the straight, four-lane stretch of U.S. 12 just outside Lewiston, and was slower between the Arrow Bridge and Pink House.

As much as the loads have been in the spotlight, only a handful of spectators were alongside the highway after the shipment left Lewiston around 11 p.m. Tuesday.

Ray Quillen, a retired firefighter who lives near the Arrow Bridge, snapped pictures near his home. “It’s very well organized,” Quillen said. “The traffic is not being held up. Everyone has a good attitude.”

What happened earlier this week is just the beginning.

The half-drum that left Lewiston Tuesday should be near Kooskia now, with two more nights of travel before it gets to the Montana border. There it will wait for a second megaload leaving Lewiston Monday, also carrying half a drum. Once the second load reaches the Montana border, the two loads will be moved together – taking another 14 days to get to Billings.

ConocoPhillips would like to move two more drum halves, already barged to the Port of Lewiston from a Japanese factory, at the end of March or early April. ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil has plans to take 207 big loads on U.S. 12 carrying Korean-made components of a processing plant to the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada. No permits have been issued for them.

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