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Definition of ‘15-minute limit’ at issue

Sat., May 7, 2011

BOISE – A hearing over plans for hundreds of megaloads of oil equipment to travel through a scenic Idaho river canyon will stretch into a third week, after a full day of testimony on Friday.

Among the issues that have surfaced over the past week is a dispute over how Idaho is defining its 15-minute limit on traffic delays from the loads that would take up both lanes of narrow, twisting U.S. Highway 12.

“You could follow a megaload at 5 mph for three hours and never have been delayed, according to this permit,” author Linwood Laughy, an opponent who lives along the route, told a state hearing officer this week.

Laughy said he’s also been stopped for repeated 10-minute delays just a few minutes apart near megaload transports and was told that doesn’t count as exceeding the 15-minute limit.

The Idaho Transportation Department has defined “traffic delay,” which is limited to a maximum of 15 minutes, as only occurring when motorists are stopped, continuously, by flaggers because of the megaloads, rather than also counting time they’re traveling slowly behind the loads.

ITD spokesman Adam Rush said, “That can be measured and is a practical way to measure how long a motorist is stopped.”

Opponents of the loads called their own expert to testify, traffic engineer Pat Dobie, of Boise, who cited the federal Highway Capacity Manual definition of delay as reduced travel speed plus complete stops.

Hearing Officer Duff McKee, a retired Idaho District Court judge, responded, “The general public would consider itself delayed if it gets stuck behind the load. But I don’t know whether that goes to the permitting analysis.”

McKee said the different definition of delay, which he called a “stop-dead delay,” might be appropriate because the megaloads would travel between 10 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. “This doesn’t delay everybody; it delays those people who are on the road at a given hour at a given location,” he said.

Dobie responded that state law requires “public convenience” to be a primary consideration in granting permits for oversize loads. “It doesn’t say convenience to everybody but night owls,” he said.

James L. Pline, a former international president of the Institute of Transportation Engineers who worked as a traffic engineer for the ITD for 35 years, told The Spokesman-Review that the accepted definition of traffic delay is “the additional travel time experienced by a driver, passenger or pedestrian.”

Betsy Z. Russell

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