Heavy Haul Freight
Oversize, overweight loads
Alaska West Express Project Manager Steve Willford checks a heavy haul load on the dock at the Port of Anchorage, as the truck backs in for transfer of a 76-ton, 83-foot by 20-foot seismic boat onto an AML barge to complete the shipment from Prudhoe Bay to Seattle, where it was transferred to a ship returning to Europe.
Photo by Judy Patrick / Courtesy of Lynden
On the way to Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport one evening I was driving in the opposite direction of a house traveling down Jewel Lake Road. It had been loaded onto a truck, was draped with the familiar yellow “oversize load” banner, and was being escorted by two ubiquitous white pilot trucks, also festooned with the bright warning. I worriedly eyed the angle of the truck and the median it was steadily approaching before dismissing my concern with a single thought: someone must have planned this out.
And indeed, not just one, but many ‘someones’ planned it out. Hauling oversize or overweight loads anywhere in Alaska requires significant planning; as STR Alaska’s Curtis Spencer says, “The logistics get really complicated.”
Alaska Trucking Association Executive Director Aves Thompson recalls one example of how complicated a heavy haul project can be: In the 1980s the city of Anchorage constructed the A Street-C Street couplet, essentially building A Street to reduce traffic, congestion, and accidents in the C Street corridor. Accident rates at various C Street intersections, such as 15th Avenue, Fireweed Lane, Benson Boulevard, and 36th Avenue, were well above the “3.0+ critical rate,” ranging from 3.32 (48 accidents in one year) at Benson and C street to 4.87 (59 accidents) at C Street and Fireweed, according to the “A-C Couplet Final Environmental Impact/Section 4(f) Statement” issued in 1982. In the course of building A Street, “they displaced probably fifteen or twenty houses along the A Street route,” Thompson says. “So all of those houses were relocated to the valley; they picked them up and moved them.” He says he was working for the state at the time and it was his responsibility to oversee the permitting process. He describes it as a “great little project” as fifteen or twenty people were able to buy homes at a “very reasonable” cost, but each one of the affordable homes was considered heavy haul and required a permit.
It may be rare in Anchorage lately to see houses hauled to and fro, but the heavy haul industry is busy with a variety of other tasks.
Steve Willford, project manager at Alaska West Express (part of the Lynden family of companies), says Alaska West Express provides heavy haul services “to, from, and within Alaska. With Lynden’s integrated marine and air services, our heavy haul capabilities include intermodal services that extend beyond where the road ends.” According to Spencer, STR also utilizes marine and other services when necessary, citing a recent project in Louisiana which required moving a load by barge because it was too big for the road.
When One Needs a Permit
Thompson says that many issues can restrict a load’s ability to be carried on the road, but one of the most limiting is a load’s height: “You can move power lines, but you can’t move a bridge structure or an overpass,” he says. Spencer says that while they do haul loads up the Alaska Highway, they’re generally not what he’d label superloads. Spencer says, “We have a bridge out near Tok that only allows us to go so high, and there’s other issues when you’re get real heavy going through Canada to Alaska.”
“Chapter 25 Operations, Wheeled Vehicles,” is an Alaska DOT&PF issued reproduction of the regulations of “17 AAC 25,” which outlines when a load must be permitted to travel on a public road in Alaska. In brief summary, a vehicle/load may not exceed 8.5 feet in width, 15 feet in height, and 53 to 75 feet in length, depending on the type of vehicle. Regarding weight, Thompson says generally loads over 100 tons will require a permit, though that is a broad generalization: more specific answers about weight requirements look at the weight on a tire per linear inch, the weight on axels or axel groups, the number of axels, distance between axels, etc. (Commercial Vehicle Size, Weight & Permit Regulations can be found online at dot.alaska.gov/mscve).
In December 2015 DOT&PF issued a “Superload Notice” stating that the Commercial Vehicle Customer Service Center requires an advance notice of five business days for permits for superloads, which it defines as being more than 150 feet long, more than 18 feet wide, more than 18 feet tall, or having a GVW (gross vehicle weight) of 250,000 pounds. Spencer says the reason the superload permit can take a week is that they have to perform calculations to determine if each bridge can handle the requested load. “You can get [other] permits back in an hour or couple of hours—typically it is one day on anything except a superload,” he says.
Thompson says that once the permit is issued, it’s important for the transporter to load the truck and confirm it actually weighs what the permit request said it would. “Sometimes at the last minute someone will add another thing [to the load] and say: they’ll never notice another five thousand or ten thousand pounds. But the bridge will probably notice it.” He says that permits, once granted, may set out restrictions on how the load can be transported, including the time of day or speed that the vehicle can move. “Part of that is that on a heavy load, weight plus speed increases damage exponentially,” he says. “If you’re going slow with a heavy load you don’t have the pressure, you don’t push the pavement up in front of you—but if you’re going fast you can, so it’s a matter of keeping your speed down.”
Spencer says that typically the maximum weight that any carrier in Alaska can haul is 410,000 pounds, including the tractor trailer combination and the load itself due to bridge constraints “If you go over that, you have to get really creative with a lot of expensive gear. Or you go to dolly systems or perimeter frame trailers or you bring in specialized gear to do it.” For a little perspective on what Spencer means by “expensive,” a superload trailer can cost $1 million-plus.
He says that whether a load is a superload, a piece of equipment, or just a truckload dictates the speed it can travel. “Sometimes it can be two full days to Fairbanks, and sometimes it can be longer,” Spencer says. “If you’re moving a 100 ton module you can be three days to Fairbanks and seven days to Prudhoe Bay.” Spencer also says that transportation times can also be extended if there’s construction on the road or heavy traffic.
What’s Being Moved?
Spencer says, “We pretty much work in every industry. Obviously oil is important to us, construction, agriculture, and marine. We haul just about everything you can think of: buildings, wind towers, heavy equipment, oilfield modules. About the only thing we don’t do is refrigerated loads and moving personal household goods.” One of STR Alaska’s recent hauls was moving oilfield modules from various Anchorage fabrication facilities in Anchorage to Prudhoe Bay.
Willford says projects Lynden has participated in include “refinery construction and upgrades, pipeline building and maintenance, power generation upgrades, construction of gold mining facilities, wind power generation, various road and facilities construction, seismic research, and bridge girders, to name a few.” Many of their large projects have been in the oil and gas industry and include “oilfield modules and other commodities for various oilfield upgrades such as Lisburne, Milne Point, Kuparuk, Oooguruk, Alpine, Prudhoe Bay, and Point Thomson.” Additionally, he says, “there are several transports moving at any given time for various customers on an ongoing basis that may not be described as a project in itself. For example, we have just completed a large oilfield module move for one of our oilfield customers with another one slated to transport first quarter 2017.”
“Any time you get into the big trailers, they’re all unique and interesting,” Spencer says. Willford would agree, saying, “Every project or oversize transport can come with its unique set of challenges and problems to solve.” For an example Willford gives the Pogo Mine project: “Lynden was contracted to oversee the movement of needed heavy machinery, oversize camp modules, and all other goods to the remote mine site over a winter ice road, with the goal to supply the construction effort through the summer, until the 50-plus mile all season road was to be completed. This required more than five hundred inbound loads to be collected from all directions, transferred to a staging area, and then organized into daily supply convoys for delivery to the mine site seven days a week during a two-and-a-half month period. The challenges included all of the previously mentioned obstacles of weather, very adverse terrain, as well as operation on an off-highway ice road. The work was ultimately completed successfully.”
Thompson says a universal challenge to the industry is Alaska’s spring thaw: “What happens is the road freezes and then the subsurface freezes, and that stabilizes the road for the winter time. And then in the spring it starts to freeze and thaw and freeze and thaw and water develops in the subsystem there, and that makes the pavement susceptible to damage.”
Spencer says that typically there are restrictions around the state ranging from April to June, though some years they start earlier, end later, or both. Thompson says those restrictions are set on a somewhat local level, for the obvious reason that the water content below a road can vary greatly in different regions of the state. “We’ve all become accustomed to it. We don’t like it, but we recognize the fact that we don’t want to tear up the road.”
Willford of Alaska West Express says that nature is a huge obstacle in Alaska, but it’s certainly not the only one. “Being challenged by the environment is only one half of the equation. The other half of the equation entails the challenge presented by the geography of the road traveled getting to the delivery point. This may be the Dalton Highway, any number of other roadways in Alaska, or various ice roads to locations that would otherwise not be accessible in summer,” he says.
On my return trip from the airport, I was happy to see that there was no house/trailer combination hung up on the median. Heavy haul projects may be complicated, but the experts get them done.
Tasha Anderson is the Associate Editor for Alaska Business Monthly.
This article first appeared in the September 2016 print edition of Alaska Business Monthly magazine.