The largest megaloads yet to travel through the Northern Rockies are still in the vetting stages in Idaho, but their course is charted when they reach Montana.
Three 1.6 million-pound loads destined for a Great Falls oil refinery will leave Interstate 90 at Bonner and travel up the Blackfoot River on Montana Highway 200, according to a transportation plan submitted by Mammoet USA South to the state Department of Transportation.
Mammoet had been weighing the pros and cons of an all-interstate route from Lookout Pass to the Calumet Montana Refining facility in the Electric City.
Two push trucks and two pull trucks will be needed to get the loads up and down three mountain passes between Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and Great Falls. Counting the four semis, the 27-foot-wide transports will stretch some 441 feet from front to back.
They pass Montana highway and bridge standards because of the loads’ extraordinary widths and the fact that weight is spread over numerous axles, said Duane Williams of MDT’s Motor Carrier Services.
“It’s almost like an 18-wheeler going one direction and another going the other direction, only it would be several of them in line,” Williams said.
“I’ve had to try to explain that to Revenue and Transportation (Interim Committee) several times and I’ve used pictures. From a top angle looking down, it looks like some trucks going north and some going south, only they’re all going north.”
A typical 18-wheeler with a single trailer is 70 to 80 feet long.
Though low enough at 16 feet to fit under interstate overpasses, the Great Falls-bound loads are otherwise substantially larger than three Omega Morgan loads en route to the tar sands of Alberta, Canada. The largest of those are 380 feet long, 23 feet wide and weigh 901,000 pounds.
The first load of that size has been parked at the former Stimson mill site in Bonner since Jan. 23, where it was reconfigured and sits waiting on a smaller trailer for good weather to head up Highway 200.
A second smaller load bypassed the first in Bonner and is now in Alberta, according to Holly Zander, spokeswoman for Oregon-based Omega Morgan.
Zander said the third and final load crossed early Thursday from Oregon into Idaho, where it was just west of Marsing. Like the previous two, it’s slated to enter Montana at Lost Trail Pass on U.S. Highway 93 and pass through Missoula a couple of night runs later. It will also require a stopover in Bonner to be configured to Canadian highway standards.
Activist groups are planning demonstrations along the route when the load moves through, including one in Salmon, Idaho, and another organized by Indian Peoples Action, Blue Skies Campaign and Northern Rockies Rising Tide in Missoula. The latter is tentatively set for midnight Thursday.
Adam Rush of the Idaho Transportation Department said the first Great Falls-bound Mammoet megaload is at the Port of Wilma, near Lewiston, Idaho. The Federal Highway Administration and ITD are conducting an environmental review of a plan for the loads to leave I-90 just east of Coeur d’Alene to dodge the towering Veterans Memorial Bridge, then re-enter the interstate on a temporary ramp.
The review was kicked off in December in Coeur d’Alene, when Mammoet officials told a public hearing in Coeur d’Alene the massive loads would carry three pieces of a central reactor tower for a $400 million expansion at Calumet.
The reactor tower was fabricated in Italy and purchased from a refinery in Bakersfield, Calif., that didn’t pan out.
The Omega Morgan transports have fueled a number of challenges in Oregon, including a petition asking a circuit court to require the state transportation department to seek public comment and consult with affected tribes before it issues megaload permits.
Williams said it’s an apt question when big loads become too big for public roadways.
“We’ve had some of those discussions, just amongst ourselves (at MDT), but nothing formal or anything like that,” he said. “It may come up at some of the national discussions or multi-state discussions, but none that I’ve been involved in.”
There’s no size ceiling on the horizon in Idaho either.
Rush said ITD reviews permit requests based on the capacity of highways and bridges on a proposed route.
“There are instances,” he said, “where the department has not granted a permit to travel on various routes as the highway infrastructure would not adequately support the load.”