They’re maybe 7 inches too tall to fit under railroad trestles on less-traveled and more direct routes.
So several long truckloads of large steel bridge girders manufactured in Libby began making their way down U.S. Highway 93 this week.
They pulled onto Interstate 90 outside Missoula on Friday morning, headed for the site of a new bridge being constructed over the Snohomish River south of Monroe, Wash., which is northeast of Seattle.
The girders themselves are 130 to 180 feet long, making the loads’ overall length 215 feet according to Matt Kessler, the transportation lead for Fisher Sand and Gravel Co. of North Dakota, which is moving them.
“Our gross weight is up above 250,000 pounds, so the hills are fairly slow,” Kessler said. “Ideally, we can go 50 to 55 (mph) safely on flat land, but coming down 93, going up the hills, we were doing about 10. We’re doing what we can, pulling over when there’s room to let traffic by.”
A total of 21 loads of girders will be hauled from Libby to Monroe this summer, with the plan being to move three truckloads a week.
Each truck is accompanied by two pilot escort vehicles.
The permits granted by the Montana Department of Transportation require the three loads to be spaced half an hour apart, to travel on weekdays and to be out of the state by 3 p.m. on Fridays.
Kessler said the plan is to depart Libby on Wednesday mornings for the next six weeks in order to reach the Idaho border by Friday afternoons.
The girders themselves are about 10 feet tall, making the loads 16 feet tall – a bit too high to squeeze under railroad trestles that pass over U.S. Highway 95 outside Sandpoint, Idaho, and Montana Highway 200 outside Thompson Falls.
Instead, the loads are traveling on U.S. Highway 2 from Libby to Kalispell, where they take the Highway 93 bypass.
They travel down the west shore of Flathead Lake on 93, and through communities such as Lakeside, Polson, Pablo, Ronan, Ravalli and Arlee before reaching Interstate 90 west of Missoula.
The trucks are on Highways 2 and 93 – the latter often especially busy during the summer months – for approximately 180 miles before getting on the interstate, where they have another 100 miles or so to reach Idaho, including the long haul up Lookout Pass.
Kessler said large loads bound for the Seattle area from Libby would normally head east on Highway 2 to avoid high-traffic areas, but the trestle on 95 prevents that. So, too, does the trestle on 200, eliminating an alternate route.
The girders were manufactured by Stinger Welding of Libby. Kessler said the girders were the last thing manufactured in the plant before it closed in the wake of a lawsuit over its assets, and the death of its CEO, Carl Douglas, in a plane crash in December.