Friday, December 23, 2011

Megaload Accidents: Public Safety at Risk - A Year in Review

Likely you've learned of the Imperial/Exxon megaload-and-van crash that occurred Dec. 6th on U.S. Hwy. 95 south of Moscow ID. (KLEWTV article). In response to that crash and other megaload-related incidents, citizens are raising questions of safety. The public has reason for concern because those incidents are adding up:

ConocoPhillips' megaload cliff collision at U.S.12 Milepost 52 and resulting 1-hour highway closure. (article)

Imperial/Exxon's "test module" collision with a large tree branch in Lewiston and its collision with a guy wire at U.S.12 Milepost 46.5 resulting in a 5-hour electrical outage for hundreds of people and 1-hour highway closure. (article)

Nickel Bros. Nov. 1st-2nd unreported megaload's unsuccessful attempt to regain access to Highway 12 from the Kooskia kiosk parking area at Milepost 73.9, which resulted in Nickel Bros.' having to put the load on blocks and repair the damaged dolly transporter.

A Ryash Transport incident on Highway 200 in Montana involving a motorhome whose side mirror was scraped off and whose passengers' safety was compromised by a megaload. (article)

A Nickel Bros. megaload incident on Highway 287 in Montana involving a heart attack victim traveling to the ER who was forced to wait for the megaload (article). (This megaload had first traveled U.S.12 through Idaho.)

Crash #1 on U.S.95 involving an Imperial/Exxon convoy and private driver Frank Bybee, who says the lack of a flagger with a "stop" sign and the presence of bright blinding convoy lights were factors in the accident in which he ran into a car "I couldn't see" that was moving slowly towards the convoy.

Crash #2 on U.S.95 involving an Imperial/Exxon megaload whose driver mistakenly moved forward and crashed into the van of private driver James Irquidez. The van was totaled and Irquidez notes that he was nearly killed. (LMT article & photo, AP article, AP followup article)

Multiple citizen-driver accounts describing confusion caused by the "unsafe" traffic control management procedures of megaload convoys on U.S.12, accounts given in sworn testimony, legal affadavits, and video and monitoring reports admitted into evidence during the contested case hearings, as well as numerous less formal accounts.

On U.S. Highway 12, we are now facing megaload shipments with no ISP escorts. The recent 8 Nickel Bros. shipments traveled sans ISP. The Selway Corp (Stevensville MT to Snoqualmie WA) megaload shipment is scheduled to run tonight with no ISP escorts. The 40-60 proposed Harvest Energy megaload shipments may be being planned minus ISP escorts. With incidents stacking up and actual crashes occurring, citizens are asking why ITD's mandate to first and foremost ensure public safety is not, in turn, mandating ISP escorts for all megaload convoy travel.

The necessity of ISP escorts was a focal point of the contested case hearing regarding Imperial/Exxon's megaload shipments. In his Conclusions, hearing officer Duff McKee confirmed the need to use ISP escorts, and ITD Director Brian Ness adopted those Conclusions as his own in his final order to allow the Imperial/Exxon shipments to go forward.

Of course, there is also the larger looming question: If -- even when accompanied by ISP escorts -- the megaload convoys are causing incidents, some of which endanger lives, can megaload travel on Idaho's highways ever be safe?