Sharp curve slows megaload; new plan needed for next load

Second leg ends at Kooskia after some traffic delayed by as long as 59 minutes

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune

Friday, February 4, 2011

Traffic was delayed by as much as 59 minutes in the second day of the three-week journey of a megaload bound for ConocoPhillips’ refinery in Billings, Mont.

The extended delays surfaced as the supersized cargo went around an extremely sharp curve between Greer and Kamiah on U.S. Highway 12, said Adam Rush, a spokesman for the Idaho Transportation Department.

The oversized load is supposed to allow traffic to pass every 10 to 15 minutes. Some delays on the Wednesday-Thursday leg were as small as four minutes, but 10 delays were 16 to 59 minutes, Rush said.

ITD is requiring a new plan for getting through the most difficult spot before it will allow a second load to depart Monday, but will not impose penalties, Rush said.

The load left the outskirts of Orofino just after 10 p.m. Wednesday and arrived at Kooskia by about 5:15 a.m. Thursday, marking the end of the second leg of the trip that went less smoothly than the first, Rush said.

A leading opponent of megaloads was warned by state troopers early Thursday morning not to disrupt the movement of the shipment, Idaho State Police Capt. Lonnie Richardson said.

Law enforcement believes Linwood Laughy “attempted to delay the movement of the load,” by stopping as traffic was being moved around it, Richardson said.

Laughy is among those who initiated litigation that delayed issuance of ITD permits for the loads for five months.

What ISP described was the result of a misunderstanding, said Laughy, who followed the megaload for part of its journey on Wednesday and Thursday as a citizen monitor to make sure it was meeting the permit requirements.

In three instances, Laughy had difficulty discerning how to follow the instructions of those directing traffic, even though he said his intent was to do whatever he was told to do.

The three times were all very brief, amounting to no more than five minutes, Laughy said.

ISP is not contemplating any additional action in connection with Laughy’s alleged behavior, Richardson said.

The first night, ISP spoke with three or four individuals, including a pedestrian who apparently was trying to look at the oversized load, Richardson said. “There has been other suspicious activity that we have made contact with, but none of them have tried to disrupt the load at all.”

If a vehicle maneuvers around the megaload more than once, it captures the attention of ISP and the agency attempts to identify who is in the car, Richardson said.

Opponents of the loads have been following its progress, but so far have not made their observations public. “We’ll share those when we’re ready to,” Laughy said.

As many as four vehicles were following the shipment Wednesday evening and Thursday morning in the 10 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. window in which the transport rig that takes up both lanes of traffic is allowed to travel, Laughy said.

Asked why the monitors can’t watch from the side of the road, Laughy said the only way to figure out how long vehicles are being delayed is to be a part of traffic. “We plan on observing these loads as they travel across Idaho.”

“As far as I know American citizens still have the right to use U.S. highways that U.S. taxpayers pay for,” Laughy said, noting the monitor cars represent an exceedingly small fraction of the traffic on the road.

Laughy hadn’t decided if he would observe the Thursday-Friday portion of the trip. “We have consistently said we don’t want to do anything illegal and we don’t want to do anything unsafe and we don’t want to do anything that would hamper the progress of the loads.”

The oversized load was kept at Kooskia by ConocoPhillips officials because of the weather. Snow was forecast to fall in the higher elevations through Monday and could see accumulations of between 9 to 20 inches of new snow over the weekend, according to the National Weather Service.
Nothing should prevent Laughy from following the load again, Richardson said. “All we want him to do is comply with the free movement of traffic.”

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