Megaload awaits Montana approval before crossing border

2014-01-04T09:22:00Z 2014-01-04T09:26:06Z Megaload awaits Montana approval before crossing borderBy KIM BRIGGEMAN Missoulian The Billings Gazette
January 04, 2014 9:22 am  • 

The first of three Omega Morgan megaloads won’t be topping Lost Trail Pass this weekend.

Montana transportation officials have yet to complete a review of the Oregon transport company’s travel plan for state highways.

“We received a revised plan right before Christmas, so our district folks are still looking at it,” said Duane Williams, head of the Motor Carrier Services division at the Montana Department of Transportation. “I would bet we’ll issue the first permit the first part of next week.”

The load, weighing more than 900,000 pounds, was parked Friday outside of Howe, Idaho, with 130 miles of two-lane highway to travel before reaching U.S. Highway 93 at Salmon. From there, it’s another 45 often winding miles to the Montana border atop Lost Trail Pass.

“My understanding is they aren’t going to leave Salmon until they have approval through Montana, so they wouldn’t be sitting on top of the pass waiting for us,” Williams said.

The General Electric-owned equipment started from Umatilla, Ore., in early December and will eventually make its way to the oil sands of Alberta. Protesters, winter weather and the holiday season have combined to slow the progress along a route that wanders far south of the intended one, which would have taken the rig along U.S. Highway 12 from Lewiston, Idaho, to Lolo. A court order in Idaho blocked that course.

A few oversized loads requiring traffic control plans and nighttime travel have traversed Ravalli County in the past with little hubbub. They’ve come from the Salt Lake City area to the south, not from the West Coast and Asia where most of the rising tide of megaloads heading for Montana are assembled.

Williams said Omega Morgan’s revised plan had nothing to do with Highway 93 in the Bitterroot Valley, but rather a sharp lefthand turn at Bowman’s Corner from Montana Highway 200 to 287, on the east side of Rogers Pass.

“That corner has been kind of a historical crash problem, if you will, and there’s some technology that has been put in there,” he said. “Detector lights start flashing when you approach from the north or south, so it’s best we don’t remove the stop sign temporarily. It’s just not very conducive to do that because of the technology.”

Instead, the route will continue along Highway 200 to Sun River, then on U.S. Highway 89 through Fairfield to the original route at Choteau. The detour of 19 miles also allows the 376-foot loads to avoid a sharp turn in downtown Augusta, Williams said.

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The planned route through Ravalli County still will not deviate from U.S. 93. The first stop in the state is near milepost 26 south of Darby.

On the next leg, the load and presumably the two behind it in subsequent weeks will travel through Darby, Hamilton and Florence before and after midnight. It’ll come to rest at the scales in Lolo, across from the intersection of 93 and Highway 12.

Williams said no traffic light alterations will be needed on that leg. At almost 19 feet high, the load being pushed by two trucks and pulled by another can be maneuvered through signaled intersections.

“I believe they can serpentine (around) all the signals in Hamilton,” he said.

Signal lights in Missoula on Brooks and Reserve streets have been designed to be temporarily swung for past megaload moves, starting with four 350-ton ConocoPhillips coke drums headed for Billings in March 2011.

Meanwhile, Montana transportation officials plan to sit down with representatives of Mammoet next week. The international moving company is mapping out plans to move the heaviest and longest megaloads yet from Lewiston, Idaho, to Calumet Montana Refining in Great Falls.

The proposed route takes two 472-foot-long, 1.6 million-pound loads into Montana on Interstate 90. Williams said it’s still undecided whether they’ll follow I-90 to Interstate 15 and turn north at Butte or take Highway 200 up the Blackfoot River corridor.

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