Bigger, heavier trucks could be traveling on U.S. Highway 95 and several other North Idaho highways in the future.
Idaho Forest Group wants to ship lumber in larger loads to Home Depot’s Salt Lake City warehouse from its three sawmills at Chilco, Moyie Springs and Laclede. The home-improvement chain is one of the company’s largest clients. Shipping heavier loads would reduce the number of trucks on the road by about 20 percent without sacrificing safety or tearing up the roads, said Bob Boeh, Idaho Forest Group’s vice president of public affairs.
The trucks would weigh about 129,000 pounds compared to the current limit of 105,500 pounds, company officials wrote in an application to the state Transportation Department. The heavier trucks also would be slightly longer than current configurations, 98 feet versus 96 feet.
At a workshop next week, local officials will get a chance to ask questions about the proposal, which would require state approval to take effect.
“We’re all in favor of helping our local businesses, but we have some concerns,” said Dan Dinning, a Boundary County commissioner. “When they’re looking at allowing longer, heavier vehicles on the highway, we also need to look at public safety issues.”
The 2013 Legislature passed bills allowing companies to apply for permits to use the 129,000-pound trucks on selected routes. The new laws followed a 10-year pilot project in southern Idaho, which said the heavier trucks didn’t result in higher accident rates or additional road repairs.
Idaho Forest Group wants permission to use the heavier trucks on an 108-mile stretch of Highway 95 between the Canadian border and Coeur d’Alene. The request also includes most of U.S. Highway 2 across the Idaho Panhandle, and parts of state Highways 1, 41 and 54.
Since North Idaho’s terrain is much different than southern Idaho’s, Boundary County commissioners want to make sure the proposal is reviewed with local conditions in mind, Dinning said.
Of particular concern to commissioners is a sharp curve on Highway 95 near the McArthur Lake Wildlife Area, which has high number of accidents and fatalities, he said. The commissioners also have questions about the impact of the heavier loads on highway bridges.
Idaho Forest Group officials said extra axles actually make the heavier trucks safer. Trucks carrying loads of 129,000 pounds must have 10 axles instead of the seven required on 105,500-pound trucks, said Boeh, the vice president of government affairs.
The additional axles provide extra brakes and shorter stopping distances, he said. They also reduce the pressure on the pavement, leading to less wear on the roads, he said.
Several neighboring states and British Columbia already allow the heavier loads, Boeh said.
In addition to Idaho Forest Group’s application, a trucking company has applied to use the heavier trucks on Highway 95 between the Canadian border and Coeur d’Alene.
If the state approves either application, other companies will be able to use heavier trucks on the approved highways without going through their own application process.
“Once the route is approved, anyone can use it,” Boeh said. “I think others will follow, once we’ve blazed that trail.”