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The latest Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) acquisition by leading U.S. Highway 12 megaloads opponents Lin Laughy and Borg Hendrickson raises new questions about potential physical damage to the wild and scenic road. In 30 pages of two now-defunct documents issued to ConocoPhillips by the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) permitting “overlegal” shipments from the Port of Lewiston to Billings, Laughy and Hendrickson spotted numerous revelations. (The Conoco permits are no longer valid because a formal hearing will begin Dec. 8 in Boise to determine whether the loads should be allowed to traverse the highway.) Many of the revelations are summarized in a message the two sent to media outlets and other concerned parties this week.

Conoco Permits Highlight Question of U.S. Highway 12 Damage

The latest Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) acquisition by leading U.S. Highway 12 megaloads opponents Lin Laughy and Borg Hendrickson raises new questions about potential physical damage to the wild and scenic road.

In 30 pages of two now-defunct documents issued to ConocoPhillips by the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) permitting “overlegal” shipments from the Port of Lewiston to Billings, Laughy and Hendrickson spotted numerous revelations. (The Conoco permits are no longer valid because a formal hearing will begin Dec. 8 in Boise to determine whether the loads should be allowed to traverse the highway.) Many of the revelations are summarized in a message the two sent to media outlets and other concerned parties this week.

The Idaho couple’s message highlighted the potential for wear-and-tear on the highway, which is an indispensable lifeline for residents and provides access to the scenic region’s principal industry, tourism.

Laughy and Hendrickson have long been interested in the question of highway damage by megaloads. They obtained copies of the transport management plans required by ITD of the contracted carrier of the Conoco loads, Emmert International, and of Mammoet, which would be the carrier of another 207 overlegal loads that Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil intends to haul over the highway.

The Emmert transport plan presents many size and weight statistics, among the most revealing of which are the axle loads. The legal limit is 20,000 pounds per axle. Emmert would transport four loads, each of which would differ in weight. The lightest of the four would have estimated axle loads of 36,491 pounds on the trailer, and the heaviest would bear an estimated 48,207 pounds per axle.

Laughy found a briefing paper issued by the Washington State Department of Transportation that states, “The relationship between axle weight and pavement damage is not linear, but exponential. For example, a single axle loaded to 40,000 pounds (twice the legal load) causes 16 times more damage than a single axle legally loaded to 20,000 pounds.”

Hendrickson points out that shipment sizes can be difficult to parse, because a given load differs in weight and other measurements depending upon whether it includes the trailer, a pull truck, and a push-truck, or any combination of those elements. “To be fully accurate when talking of weight and roadbed wear and tear,” she notes, “it only makes sense to talk of the full combo of two trucks, trailer, and load.”

She adds that the length of a shipment also can vary, but when it includes flagger vehicles, pilot cars, state police cars, and maintenance support vehicles, each convoy will be about 500 feet long.

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4 comments

  1. Axel weights are not a true measure, either. The spread of the weight by axel is the determinant value. That, and how many tires per axel, and tire size.

    I also do wonder about heat. Ambient air temps. And subgrade soil moisture. All are factors. Essentially, the road surface is a plastic, pliable mat that moves with weight. In Alaska, we had logging roads over essentially tundra that were used to haul off highway log loads. The binding power of aggregate, of sufficient depth and proper amounts of the many sizes of rock, down to almost dust, wove the roadbed together, and you could see a truck going down the road loaded, and it was pushing a small wave of road surface ahead of every tire. No matter which way you traveled loaded, it was always uphill. They called them “floating” roads, as the use of geotextiles and rock more or less floated the road over the boggy land surface. I do think that on a warm summer night, the big loads will be pushing a wave of asphalt ahead of them, and the last axels will roll the road out smooth once again. Or do great harm. We just don’t know at this time.

    It would seem necessary to survey the whole of the route through the US to see if, in fact, the subgrade, water diversions, shoulders, and surface are suitable and strong enough to carry such loads. There is a huge amount of axel weight on jets like a cargo 747 and other jumbo jets. They have huge tires, and multiple axels, and if the runways are not built for those kinds of loads, an emergency landing, even by a F-15 fighter or some other kind of fighter on a country airport runway, creates a situation where the plane lands successfully, but the military then has to come in and do a lot of lightening work to have a lighter plane capable of using the same runway to take off after repairs. And I can imagine these loads are along the line of jumbo jets in terms of axel weight.

    It would appear that there are many unanswered questions that a state transportation agency needs to ask and get suitable answers to, just in pursuit of due diligence that the tax paying public invests in a transparent government. It is not inappropriate for possibly affected parties on either side to get good, thoughtful, supportable answers, timely and done in good faith. You would think the successors to Morrison-Knudsen (sp?) would have the ability to hard charge after the answers, and State congressional delegates should be able to get the money to find those answers from the Federal Highway Admin. After all, it is an international trade issue, and an issue of State’s rights to a degree. Probably attention by Sec of State Clinton is needed. From Korea across the Pacific to Oregon, up the Columbia and Snake Rivers to Lewiston, up and over Lolo Pass, and on to the Canadian border via Montana. It is not an issue a state will be able to stop, and not an issue that is out of the hands of the State Dept. and the Commerce Sec. We can’t be an international economic force all the while letting states dictate the trade by transportation issues. There has to be a solution, somewhere. And maybe that is the St Lawrence Seaway and Canadian highways.

    We (individuals affected, tax payers, road users, and governments) need much, much more information to make a sane and informed decision. We are not there.

  2. Tom Maddock from the Port of Lewiston wrote an opinion piece in 8Dec10 Statesman, basically wondering when Idaho is going to get the show on the road, what message Idaho is sending to its international trading partners, and when is Idaho going to come to its senses. ITD should have contract engineers check the engineering plans of the applicant in situations like this, instead of letting judges and obstructionists do engineering checks for Idaho in a long drawn out court proceeding.

  3. Seems this article (12-7-2010) was written before the Last Hearing of the (12-8/8 -2010)
    The issues listed and discussed in this article were not dicussed at the lastest hearing. Another diversion by the plantiff in a seemingly last breathe effort to cloud the true- distort the facts and stick to the issues.
    God Help America

  4. Good article. Actually, new data shows the convoy’s length for each shipment is likely to be closer to 600-700 yards.

    Recently, a megaload passing along a hot Texas pavement in 97 degree heat, created such additional heat that the tires peeled up the pavement like sod, leaving linear potholes behind. In Texas, where megaloads have traditionally traveled after passing through the Panama Canal enroute north to places like Canada, many complaints and questions have arisen regarding the visible actual damage megaloads cause on roadbeds. Idaho seems unwilling to look at these actualities in order to project a rather ironic “pro business” attitude. I say “ironic” because Idaho seems to be the economic stepsister in the megaload scenario; that is, no new jobs resulting from megaloads, the lowest permit fees, the most to lose in terms of the U.S.12 corridor’s single growing industry-tourism, and a depleted transportation infrastructure budget looking at accelerated wear and tear caused by megaloads. Idaho could be called the “fool state” for letting itself be used as a conduit for the export of manufacturing jobs to Asia, shipping jobs to Asia and Holland, and extraction jobs to Canada. Idaho is the mega-loser in the megaload saga.