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LOLO - Just one of a tandem pair of oversized loads bound for the ConocoPhillips refinery in Billings made the trip down U.S. Highway 12 to the Lolo weigh station early Tuesday.

The rig arrived at the appointed daytime pullout north of Lolo on Highway 93 with two minutes to spare.

Meanwhile, a second giant coke drum remained parked on the side of Highway 12 near Lolo Hot Springs, immobilized by what ConocoPhillips spokesman Rich Johnson called a "buildup of ice and snow." The load has been parked at the turnout since Feb. 12, awaiting arrival of the second load.

"It was on some ice, and we had difficulty getting it off the ice," said Mark Hefty, a spokesman for Emmert International, Conoco's transport company. "We had to get out there (Tuesday) and get that broken up so we could get it off."

By Tuesday afternoon, after crews dug and scraped the area, the big rig appeared poised to head down Highway 12 at midnight. Barring more unforeseen delays, the second load should join the first at the Lolo weigh station early Wednesday morning.

They'll travel through Missoula on Reserve Street in the early hours Thursday.

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The first rig waited more than an hour early Tuesday morning for the second before it finally began its 30-mile journey. It pulled into the old weigh station above Lolo Flats at 5:58 a.m., two minutes before its Montana permit expired. The 300- to 350-ton rigs are allowed to move only between midnight and 6 a.m.

Jim Lynch, director of the Montana Department of Transportation, said the late departure caused commuter traffic delays on Highway 93 after 5 a.m. The last couple of miles were between concrete Jersey barriers, and traffic was kept behind the slow-moving megaload for that distance.

"What we're looking at today is there is a possibility it could move over to the side and let traffic pass," he said. "But I think being an hour ahead of the game will make it not as much of an issue."

It's anticipated that should the second load leave on time and encounter no problems, it should be off Highway 93 before 5 a.m. Wednesday and not create the traffic problems caused Tuesday morning.

The first rig waited throughout the day Tuesday for the arrival of the second, and its massive presence caused more than a bit of rubber-necking by curious rush-hour commuters. A few drivers pulled over to get a closer look at the mammoth, 28-foot-tall drum.

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The two massive loads are carrying the top and bottom of a coke drum to be installed at Conoco's Billings refinery.

After they pass through Missoula on Reserve Street, the next stopover is slated for a pullout on Interstate 90 west of the Orange Street exit.

As the convoy reaches Bonner on the next leg of the trip, an interstate exit will be required at the interchange because of the overpass there. The loads are too high to fit under interstate overpasses.

The loads will travel east on a secondary highway to Clinton, where they'll re-enter the interstate. They'll proceed on I-90, stop at another abandoned weigh station west of Drummond, then proceed up the Clark Fork River valley to Garrison, where they'll regain U.S. 12 and two-lane roads.

After a stop at Avon, they'll go over MacDonald Pass to Helena. The full Montana leg to Billings is scheduled to take 14 nights.

For updates call the ConocoPhillips information line at 1-866-535-0138. MDT is not issuing updates on its website.

 

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