BOISE - Idaho’s top transportation officials voted unanimously Thursday to eliminate the state’s 10-minute limit on traffic delays from oversized loads traveling Idaho roads, including giant megaloads.
“We don’t like any more delays than we have to have, but sometimes it becomes necessary to move big equipment,” said Idaho Transportation Board Chairman Darrell Manning. “Commerce is important in the state of Idaho, especially right now.”
Manning said he doesn’t think the rule change - which takes effect July 1, and then will be reviewed next year by state lawmakers - will have any effect on the pending contested-case process for 200-plus proposed megaloads to travel on U.S. Highway 12 in north-central Idaho, though a central point of the objections to the permits has been that the loads couldn’t comply with the 10-minute limit on traffic delays.
Laird Lucas, attorney for a group of residents and business owners along the route who are opposing the giant loads, agreed. “That case has been submitted to the hearing officer, and it would be highly unusual for an agency to somehow retroactively change their rules,” he said. “So I don’t think it will affect this contested case, but obviously it could affect megaloads into the future.”
ITD board member Jim Coleman said, “The issue is we have conflicting rules, basically.” One rule requires traffic control plans for major projects, and the department interprets its requirements for those as falling back on the informal 15-minute traffic delay standard for road construction projects. “Then we have this rule that says a 10-minute delay,” Coleman said. “Now they’re just consistent. I think that’s the way they should be.”
Regina Phipps, the Idaho Transportation Department’s vehicle size and weight specialist, said projects that don’t submit traffic plans shouldn’t be an issue, because “usually, in those instances, they don’t have any delay problems anyway.”
ITD board member Jan Vassar asked why the rule change didn’t include fee revisions to ensure that fees for oversize load permits cover the department’s staffing costs to process the permits. Deputy Director Scott Stokes said a review of those fees still is in the works. “We still haven’t finaled this out. It could be another month or two,” he said.
Lucas, who said he was unaware of the rule change, said, “I don’t think it’s a good idea, because the 10-minute rule seems to be a pretty common rule - Montana has one, I suspect other states do as well. … It’s a good rule of thumb to minimize delays to the public to 10 minutes.” But he said in the case of the megaloads, his clients don’t believe the big loads can maneuver on the narrow, twisting highway and still meet either a 10- or 15-minute limit on delays. “There’s going to be much longer delays,” he said.
The rule changes approved Thursday ostensibly were to comply with HB 228, legislation that passed this year to say oversize farm tractors and other agricultural implements can be on the roads when they’re being moved to repair shops or transported to or from sale, rather than just when being moved from farm to farm. That bill was sponsored by acting Rep. Gayle Batt, R-Wilder. It contains no references to the 10-minute traffic delay rule that’s been at issue in the megaloads debate, nor did that issue come up in the legislative debate on the bill.
HB 228 applies only to movements of farming implements during daylight hours. The megaloads, under proposed permits, would move only at night.
The board’s approved resolution says, “The Idaho Transportation Board has authority to approve required changes to Department rules; and … the Idaho Transportation Board finds the required changes … necessary due to Legislative changes and for the industry within Idaho.”
Coleman said, “The rule was modified due to the legislative action - it gave us a chance to clean up the whole thing.”
Molly McCarty, ITD legislative liaison, said, “Whenever they have a rule change on a particular rule, they’ll do cleanup work on any other areas of the rule.” She couldn’t say why elimination of the 10-minute delay rule would be considered “cleanup.”
The rule has been at issue in the contested-case fight over permits for hundreds of huge, oversized megaloads of oil equipment to travel from Lewiston to Montana on scenic Highway 12, en route to the Alberta oil sands. A ruling from a state hearing officer on those permits is due shortly.
ITD has argued that the 10-minute rule didn’t apply, and said it required a 15-minute limit on traffic delays in traffic plans for the big loads.
Also included in Thursday’s change is elimination of the current 24-foot maximum width for any loads traveling on interstates, which also could affect plans to move reduced-height megaloads on I-90. Phipps, however, said the dozens of Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil megaloads now proposed to travel up U.S. Highway 95 and onto I-90 at Coeur d’Alene to head to Montana would be just 24 feet wide, so the rule change wouldn’t affect them.