A trucking company has asked the Idaho Transportation Department to let it to haul up to 129,000-pound loads of lumber, steel, grain and fertilizer as many as 1,750 times a year along a route through north Meridian and Garden City into the heart of Boise.
According to its application, Arlo G. Lott Trucking Inc. of Jerome wants to send its 115-foot double-trailer trucks on a route starting at Idaho 16 near Star onto Chinden Boulevard (U.S. 20/26) through Meridian and Garden City. From there the trucks would merge onto the Connector and travel through Downtown Boise via the Front/Myrtle streets couplet, and then turn onto Broadway Avenue and traverse it to its terminus at the freeway.
According to its application, the company would make an average of nearly five trips daily starting “as soon as possible.”
Along this 20-mile route the trucks carrying up to 64 tons of cargo would go through 47 traffic signals, an elementary school zone and two of Ada County’s busiest intersections.
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ITD staff is processing the application and has not yet made a recommendation, but the Ada County Highway District and some mayors of the cities along its path are opposed, saying the route is too busy and the trucks would be too hard to turn and too slow to brake.
In Idaho, the maximum weight allowed on roadways and freeways is 105,500 pounds. In 2013, the Legislature approved letting 129,000-pound trucks travel on 35 state highways. If a hauler wants to exceed the 105,500-pound limit on a state route not designated for heavier trucks, it must get permission from ITD. Exceeding the weight limit on nonstate roads requires permission of the local highway district, city or county that has jurisdiction over the road — or, in the case of the interstate, the federal government.
Proponents say the higher weight limit means trucks must have more axles than usual, distributing the weight in such a way that there is less weight on each axle than a standard truck — and therefore less stress on roads. Carrying more cargo also reduces the number of trips a truck must make, meaning fewer trucks on the road, which would make the roads safer.
“The 129,000-pound configuration that Arlo G. Lott would use will reduce the weight per axle by approximately 3,000 pounds when compared to a 105,500-pound truck. The benefit of the 129,000-pound configuration would be less weight per axle, and fewer truck trips,” said ITD spokesperson Adam Rush.
Boise, Meridian, ACHD, Ada and Canyon counties, Parma and AAA Idaho do not see the benefit. Each wrote ITD opposing making Chinden and Broadway a 129,000-pound truck route.
“We cannot find a compelling reason (to) allow potentially 1,750 heavy truck loads to travel some of our city’s most important thoroughfares annually,” wrote Boise Mayor Dave Bieter in a Sept. 10 letter to ITD.
AAA Idaho public and government affairs director Dave Carlson said the proposal “challenges common sense and puts thousands of motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists in the path of huge tractor-trailer combinations one-third the length of a football field.”
The trucks would travel through the Ada County’s fourth- and ninth-busiest intersections — Chinden/Eagle and Capitol Boulevard/Myrtle, respectively — according to a 2014 ACHD analysis.
According to ITD’s analysis of the proposed route, five-year accident data shows there were 1,442 crashes resulting in 823 injuries and five fatalities on the U.S. 20/26 segment of the proposed route. Only 33 of those crashes involved tractor-trailer combinations, resulting in two injuries and zero fatalities.
ITD reports that the Chinden/Eagle and Chinden/Linder Road intersections are ranked second and 11th on its statewide high-accident location intersections list. The two high-volume intersections “would take major investment to fix,” but there’s no money for improvements, according to ITD’s evaluators.
Chinden is nearing capacity and ITD’s plans for improving it “are decades away,” according to the city of Meridian. “(T)he city questions if approval would be wise at this point on a corridor where capacity is already an issue,” wrote Meridian Mayor Tammy de Weerd and council members.
The speed limit on the proposed route ranges from 35 mph to 55 mph and includes a 20 mph school zone at Garfield Elementary, located at Broadway and Boise avenues.
“It is our understanding that 129,000-pound loads cannot stop as quickly as currently allowed (105,500-pound) loads, have less maneuverability, and cannot accelerate as fast as existing allowed lower loads,” wrote ACHD President Jim Hansen. He notes that 129,000-pound loads are illegal on the freeway, even though it has a much more “robust pavement and bridge system than state highways and local roads.”
The trucks would pass by three of the state’s largest event centers — Boise State’s football stadium and arena, and Boise’s CenturyLink Arena — which bring throngs of cars and pedestrians. A new Downtown convention center is under construction and several new hotels are in the works for Front and Myrtle streets.
“The heavy trucks require more time and distance to stop, making them less able to avoid colliding with unpredictable pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles,” Bieter stated. “We believe adding heavier trucks to this urban, high-volume segment of highway would be a mistake.”
SAFE TRUCKS, SAFE DRIVERS
Garden City Mayor John Evans brings a different perspective to the table.
“You are talking to probably the only mayor who still has his Class A CDL,” said Evans, referring to his commercial truck driver’s license. He said he used to haul an excavator that weighed more than 100,000 pounds down State Street and out Warm Springs Avenue.
Only experienced, well-trained drivers would be put behind the wheel of the 129,000-pound trucks, he said.
“Those trucks do not run very fast,” Evans explained, and they need extra time to decelerate and accelerate. “Between some of those stops, those trucks probably will not get up to 35 mph. ... If anything they might hold traffic up.”
Evans said he has no problem with the trucks traversing Garden City via Chinden, which has a 35 mph speed limit from Maple Grove Road to the Connector.
“If there were any issue at all it would be whether the roads can support the weight. And they deal with that by adding axles to the truck so you do not have any extra point loading on the roadway system. If the bridges can handle it, I do not think I have an have issue with it,” Evans said.
According to ITD’s analysis, all of the bridges and roads on the route can handle 129,000-pound loads.
BROADWAY BRIDGE, AND A DEAD END?
When ITD receives an application to allow 129,000-pound trucks on a state highway not already approved for such trucks, staff does an analysis and holds a public hearing. Then a committee makes a recommendation to the ITD board of directors, which can accept or reject it.
ITD has completed its evaluation of Arlo G. Lott’s application and recommended “proceeding with the request”; it held a public hearing on Aug. 25 in Eagle. The subcommittee is slated to consider the application sometime in November.
But gaining ITD’s approval will not be enough to get these trucks rolling.
ITD has jurisdiction only over state highways; ACHD has jurisdiction over all roads and bridges in the county not part of the state or federal highway system.
Since the trucks must briefly get on the Connector, the federal government would need to grant permission for a truck that weighed 129,000 pounds, said Rush. But the Federal Highway Administration does not grant overweight permits for “reducible” loads — those that can easily be broken down into smaller loads. The FHA does grant overweight permits for “nonreducible loads,” such as large pieces of equipment, on a per-trip basis.
Without the ability to use the freeway, the trucking company must get permission from ACHD to use local roads, which also have a 105,500-pound weight limit.
“We wish to make it clear that such a proposal will not be allowed by ACHD,” Hansen told ITD.
One major roadblock is the Broadway bridge, which will close at the end of the year for nine months so crews can replace it — the 60-year-old bridge is rated “structurally deficient.” According to ITD, both the existing bridge and the new bridge will be able to handle the 129,000-pound loads.
When Broadway’s bridge closes for construction, all vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists will need to find an alternate route. For the heavy trucks, that would require traveling on local roads, which ACHD has already said is not an option.
Also unaddressed in the application is what the trucks would do when they reach the end of the route at Broadway Avenue and Interstate 84. The trucks cannot enter the freeway because they are too heavy for the freeway’s weight limit.
“Once trucks have made their deliveries and reach the I-84/Broadway interchange, they will be light enough to use I-84 for return trips,” said Rush.
But those deliveries could be made only at businesses located on Chinden or Broadway, because if the trucks were to leave those state highways to make deliveries, they would be on local roads.
Lott Trucking did not return a Statesman call requesting clarification of the where the loads would be making deliveries or how it plans to secure ACHD’s permission. ACHD says it has not been contacted by Lott Trucking or ITD regarding getting permission to bring overweight trucks onto local roads.