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 megaloads.
The Idaho Transportation Department contends there are conflicting rules, and likely will fall back to the current, but informal, 15-minute standard for 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 – will have any effect on the pending case on the 200-plus proposed ExxonMobil megaloads to travel on U.S. Highway 12 in north-central Idaho, although a central contention has been that the loads couldn’t comply with the 10-minute limit on traffic delays.
Laird Lucas, attorney for the Highway 12 group 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 one of conflicting rules. 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.”
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.” 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 allow oversize agricultural implements 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 law contains no references to the 10-minute traffic delay rule; it applies only to movement of farming implements during daylight hours. The megaloads, under proposed permits, would move only at night.
The board’s approved resolution says the “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.”
The rule has been at issue in the fight over permits for hundreds of huge loads 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 soon.
The 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.