Megaload test hits U.S. 12
250-foot-long Imperial Oil test module weighing 490,000 pounds departs Port of Lewiston
By Elaine Williams of the Tribune
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
An Imperial Oil test module edged out of a parking lot at the Port of Lewiston at 10 p.m. Monday.
At least three crew members monitored its progress on foot. Its departure followed preparations in the hour before it left, such as hanging at least two more lights from the test module and inspecting the rig with flashlights.
A handful of onlookers included men driving a truck with the logo of Emmert International, the contractor ConocoPhillips is using to haul halves of two drums from Lewiston to a refinery in Billings, Mont., on U.S. Highway 12.
The early stage of the trip appeared to follow carefully laid plans. By about 10:25 p.m. the test module had crossed U.S. 12 onto Frontage Road, a street megaloads take to avoid an overpass on the highway.
Still, there were no guarantees of how smoothly the rest of its trip to Montana will go.
The megaload weighs 490,000 pounds counting its hauling equipment, a pull truck and a push truck plus a trailer. It’s three stories high and 24 feet wide and almost 250 feet long from the front of the pull truck to the back of the push truck.
No company has ever hauled any shipment as heavy as this configuration on U.S. 12. The Idaho Transportation Department is requiring Imperial Oil and its hauling contractor, Mammoet, to run this experiment before it grants permission for any other similar shipment to use the same route.
“We’re going to do everything we can to accomplish this move safely and flawlessly,” said Pius Rolheiser, a spokesman for Imperial Oil, a company owned mostly by ExxonMobil.
The test module is the same weight and dimensions as the largest of the more than 100 megaloads Imperial Oil wants to send on U.S. 12. They would take up two lanes of traffic as they carry Korean-made modules for a processing plant in the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada.
The test module, as well as the proposed oversized loads, are to be accompanied by Idaho State Police troopers paid for by Imperial Oil and the loads have to pull over every 15 minutes to allow traffic to pass.
The loads are limited to traveling in Idaho between 10 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. The journey has been split into three parts with stopping points at Kooskia, mile post 139, 65 miles east of Kooskia and 7.5 miles inside the Montana border.
The first segment was to take the test shipment across the Arrow Bridge, where it will shed the push truck to lower its weight to about 450,000 pounds. The weight limit of the bridge for this type of load is about $25,000 pounds.
The Arrow Bridge is the longest bridge on U.S. 12 between Lewiston and Montana. A construction contractor repaired an 18-inch crack last summer after it was discovered during a rehabilitation project of the bridge.
It was also supposed to navigate a series of tight curves between Orofino and Kamiah. The turns were one of the toughest areas for an oversized shipment ConocoPhillips sent on U.S. 12 in February.
Comparing the two loads isn’t fair since they’re carrying different types of cargo and being hauled by different contractors, said Rolheiser, who was visiting Lewiston Monday to watch the test module leave.
Aside from challenges the terrain might pose, Imperial Oil could face some additional legal hoops before the test module will be allowed to enter Montana.
The uncertainty lingered even though the Montana Department of Transportation issued a permit last week for it to go 7.5 miles to a private parking lot at Lolo Hot Springs.
That decision is being questioned by the Missoula County commissioners and certain environmental groups. They may take legal action later in the week aimed at preventing the test module’s admission into their state, said James McCubbin, a deputy attorney in the Missoula County attorney’s office.
Those groups have already filed litigation asking MDT to conduct a more thorough analysis before it gives Imperial Oil permission to use its roads for the oversized transports.
The other big variable is weather.
Snow showers were predicted for Powell near Lolo Pass where the shipment will be late Wednesday and early Thursday. “If weather prevents us from moving safely, we simply wouldn’t,” Rolheiser said.
Regular updates from Imperial Oil about the move will be available at www.kearltransport.com.
Williams may be contacted at [email protected] or (208) 848-2261.