The toughest dimension for us to plan, permit, and execute is height. Many of our loads easily reach signs, bridges, and wires and require more time to carefully attend to details associated with a high load. It’s not just finding a route under or around low bridges, it's about mitigating height with the proper trailer and managing the support required from utility companies, bridge engineers, and railroad vendors in order to minimize the cost and scheduling impacts for our customers.
In terms of bridges, there are states that require a 2" clearance between the load and a bridge, others that require a 6” clearance. There are states that have arched bridges and measure them from the lowest point, even if it is over the shoulder. We are sometimes allowed to use an exit-ramp and immediately re-enter via the on-ramp to avoid a bridge that is too low, but sometimes we aren’t even allowed to do that. Not every bridge is ramp-able, so we have to find a detour using county or city streets and those roads are a whole different story. We have been allowed to lower our trailer using the hydraulics, go under a low bridge, and then raise up again, in order for the state to keep us on a good highway route. Then again, there are states that do not offer help in routing high loads at all. Some do not have a record of how high their bridges are that the public can view and use. In that instance, we have to go out and physically measure the bridges using a height pole or an electronic laser measuring device ourselves. We perform these route and bridge surveys weeks and even months ahead of the scheduled move. If we were to encounter a bridge on a permitted route that we couldn't clear, we'd have to start permits over until we could find a route that we could clear. By doing these ahead of time, we reduce the risk of running into the unexpected along the way.
It’s not only the bridges that are a concern to us, we have to check overhead signs, signal lights, railroad crossings, wires, and even trees. If we run into a low overhead sign, we have to investigate and find a (hopefully local) company to remove the sign for us. If there are signals lights that can’t be maneuvered through by crossing to the other side of the highway or using serpentine steering for example, then an ‘approved’ signal light contractor has to be hired at each location to lift or remove them as we go through. An intersection needing signal help can cost as much as $10,000!
Railroads sometimes have overhead railroad crossing signs and signals. In these cases, we have to contact the owner of each rail crossing and hire them or their ‘preferred’ contractor to lift or remove the obstruction while we pass through. The railroads, many times, want months of notice and again, thousands of dollars.
When there are low bridges on the major highways, or construction, we are often routed onto secondary roads, two-lane state highways, county roads, and sometimes city streets. At this point, we find even more obstructions needing measuring, approval, and support. If there are trees on our route, we ask for permission from the governing entity to remove or trim them. Sometimes, we are told no; even if they have routed us this way. Once there was a historic oak tree and they would not let us trim it to get to the power plant at the University. We had to tie back the limbs with rope, climbing the tree, pulling the branches up and back to get the load, a boiler, through.
Wires are, by far, our biggest challenge when hauling over-height loads.The phone, cable, and electric companies and the cost of working with them incur significant impacts to timeline and budget. There are not lists of these utility-wire heights on any road. Our crews perform route surveys while driving with a pole sticking up that is higher than the load called a "Height Pole" to test and ensure no overhead wires are struck. A laser measuring device that is accurate up to 3/16" is also used to record the location of the wire and it’s height. Sometimes there are a hundred wires on our routes that need attention. There is no one list available as to who owns each wire, so we must call city offices or a chamber of commerce to get the local phone, cable, or electric company names to find contact information for approval or support. Electric co-ops and some utility companies sometimes keep maps of their own areas and we log our own historic experience with wires, yet it is just a starting place. Maps and contacts can be difficult to maintain and keep current, especially when trying to track down the specific person to contact, as opposed to a large company who may or may not own a wire. We make phone call after phone call, email after email, trying to make contact with the right person in each company, the one that can help us with the low wires. On one move, there were over 75 companies that we had to make contact and schedule arrangements with for assistance.
The utility companies do not know how high their wires are. They have to go out an measure them. Many of the utility companies require a non-refundable deposit from us, so they can go check the route and measure their own wires. If they need to assist us, they require more deposits and again thousands of dollars. Sometimes they refund part of it, sometimes they do not, sometimes they charge us additional funds. Regardless, it is not consistent across multiple states or jurisdictions. There are utility companies who charge us just to come out to watch us go under their wires, but do not need to assist us. Sometimes bills give no explanation for the charges, no man-hours or equipment even shown, just a flat rate. There has got to be a better way!
Once the obstructions have been measured and approved a travel schedule is made. We notify each company where and when to meet us, yet having the correct time and place is both difficult and critical because of what it cost us to have them meet us. It’s usually overtime-pay, port-to-port mileage fees, and vehicle costs for them regardless if it is day time or night time travel. Lastly, we pray for no snow or rain, because if we have to postpone travel, all of them have to contacted and rescheduled all over again.
We had a high move recently that went 100 miles. The costs for the assistance due to the load being over-height was $90,000. In previous years we made a moves of 1000 miles, and the cost of overhead support was $200,000.
Overall, something really needs to be done to help reduce the time and money spent to move these loads and still protect the state, utilities, and infrastructures. The lack of detailed information available for a transportation company, as well as the inconsistencies in cost and requirements needs to be addressed. Not knowing how high wires are, who owns the wires, who to contact, and getting assistance to lift them is incredibly time consuming and expensive. The costs for making an over-height move will prevent the sales of big pieces of cargo and that will benefit no one.
Unfortunately, it doesn't stop at height and utilities, in addition to this type of coordination and in order to transport most of our loads, highway, county, and city patrol are required to travel with us in the name of safety. This is a post/topic for a different time, but just to throw it out there, one state may cost $10,000 to go through with patrol escorts, and another $1000.
Ultimately, it boils down to the relationships we build and maintain, along with our proven experience with loads that are extremely high, heavy, wide, or long. Let us know how we can help you plan and execute your next move.
~Shelley Latham, Business Development Manager
If you have any suggestions, concerns, or information that may help in conjunction with these discussions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are happy to introduce all constructive recommendations to the committees dedicated to drive the progress and innovation of out industry.