Two of Omega Morgan's three megaloads finally crossed into Missoula territory this week, en route from Oregon's Port of Umatilla to the Alberta tar sands. The first sat idle on the side of Highway 93 just north of Lolo Tuesdayits top still caked with snowafter navigating relatively new territory for such oversized shipments: the Bitterroot Valley.
Up until last fall, megaload shipping companies like Omega Morgan had attempted to follow the route over Lolo Pass identified but never used by Imperial Oil. But a federal ruling in Idaho last September effectively closed Highway 12 to oversized traffic, and Omega Morgan turned instead to Lost Trail Pass. Those loads have since been repeatedly delayed.
"The very first night that we had planned to travel we weren't able to travel because of protester activity," says Omega Morgan spokesperson Holly Zander, referring to a Dec. 1 incident at the Port of Umatilla. "They had locked themselves to our truck and we actually had to take part of our truck apart in order to remove them."
Zander adds the majority of the delays have been weather related, with the first load held up earlier this month by winter storms at Lost Trail Pass.
Duane Williams at the Montana Department of Transportation says the addition of the Bitterroot to the megaload map hasn't necessitated any permanent infrastructure upgrades. According to MDT spokeswoman Lori Ryan, the company's travel plan lists 10 problematic traffic signs throughout the Bitterroot. But unlike past megaload proposalsnamely Imperial Oil's Kearl Module Transportation PlanOmega Morgan's plan doesn't even call for modifications to existing turnouts.
"We don't necessarily have to have a pullout for the truck to meet that 10-minute rule," Williams says, referring to the state's 10-minute maximum for traffic delays. "With the traffic control setup, you have leap-frogging flag stations up ahead and then you can in the meantime have the pilot cars bring in the vehicles close to the load and have the vehicle pull into an approach while the load goes right up the road."
Omega Morgan's first load will now be transferred to a lighter trailer at the old Stimson Mill Site in Bonner before proceeding to the widely recognized route up Highway 200, turning north on Highway 287. However, the second load will continue on without reconfiguration and take another detour from the megaload map, following Highway 200 through Fort Shaw and Sun River before turning onto Highway 89. Williams says the route change was due to the load's length, and potential problems with traffic signs while turning at Bowman's Corner.