Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Exxon Test Module Postponed Once Again - Locals Recommend Megaloads Stay Off Fragile Highway 12

The first mention in the press of an Exxon megaload test module came in the fall of 2009. The test run was postponed until the spring of 2010, early summer, late summer and eventually fall of 2010. At the start of 2011 Exxon and ITD started putting out specific dates – February 22nd, February 28th, March 7th, March 28th and most recently April 4th. The reasons have varied over the course of the past year and half as to why the test module hasn’t been run. Yet the fact remains – Highway 12 is ill-suited to to be a megaload transportation route.

If you still think these loads have a future on Highway 12, I recommend you drive the route today. Look at the signs of rockfall and landslides – both large and small along the route. Notice the extra large potholes that have surfaced since the two Conoco loads labored over the route. Then look to the side and check out the river. With steady ran for the past week on top of better than average snowfall the creeks are all flowing at top capacity feeding the Lochsa and Clearwater Rivers into a frenzy. These are not the conditions to “test” out loads 200 tons over the national weight limit standard setfor interstate highways. Even with the weight distributed over numerous axels the pressure on the highway bed is much greater than that of a normal semi-truck. What effect will those weights have on the roadbed? How will pullouts that were not built to handle loads anywhere near this size hold up in these conditions? How does driving such a load at slow speeds with the increased noise and vibration affect all ready unstable hillsides? And what happens if there’s any kind of major problem?

These questions and many others were raised by local citizens at the informational meetings held in Kooskia last summer. Residents were told that Mammoet was the “best in the business” and that Highway 12 was the only route these modules could take. Since then we’ve learned that Mammoet had two accidents on dry, wide roads in the past year and that many of the modules can be broken down into smaller shipments as is evidenced by the work currently taking place at the Port of Lewiston. The representatives for Exxon/Imperial showed a general lack of knowledge relating to the nature of Highway 12 – they seemed unaware of snow and ice that covers the upriver section of the road for much of the winter as well as the risk of avalanche, the spring run-off and the landslides and rockslides that often accompany it as well as the large volume of summer traffic.

The best business decision Exxon can make at this point is to pack up those loads, ship them back down the Columbia and take the traditional route – through the Gulf of Mexico and up the central U.S. Had Conoco done that when they first ran into trouble their shipments would have arrived in Billings long ago.

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