Trucking industry officials were notified by the Idaho Transportation Department earlier this month that upgrades to U.S. Highway 95 have been completed to allow bigger and heavier traffic that is expected to improve commerce in the state.
Restrictions on size of loads were reduced Aug. 5 for the 538-mile stretch of highway that travels through 13 counties in Idaho from the Oregon border to the Canadian border. The modification of restrictions was the result of a multi-year effort by the department, based on information from industry leaders on the need to allow greater ease of travel and improve commerce along the highway.
Reed Hollinshead, spokesman for the department, said Friday there were six or seven “pinch points” along the highway that made it difficult, if not impossible, for 53-foot commercial truck-trailers to navigate.
“There were parts of the road before this that couldn’t accommodate those (truck-trailers), so they would have to get special permits to use it,” Hollinshead said. “(ITD records show) there were about 28,000 customers that had those permits because they were trying to use 53-foot trailers in areas that didn’t accommodate them.”
One of those “pinch points” was through Council, Idaho, where the highway made a 90-degree bend through the middle of town. The highway improvement now bypasses the downtown area.
The recent improvements will now allow trailers as much as 53 feet long without a permit and permitted vehicle combinations as much as 115 feet in overall length with a 6.5-foot off-tracking and weight limit of as much as 129,000 pounds.
Previous vehicle limits were allowed in loads as much as 95 feet long and a 5.5-foot off track. Off-tracking refers to the different paths that the front and rear wheels take when cornering. The rear (or trailer) wheels will take a shorter path around a curve. The driver has to compensate for this by taking the curve wider. The 6.5-foot off-track is the difference in the path of the first inside front wheel and the last inside rear wheel as the vehicle negotiates a curve.
Bill Moad, chairman of the Idaho Transportation Board, said the improvement to the highway will allow all of U.S. Highway 95 to have the same legal and permitted requirement and increase safety, mobility and economic opportunity for commercial vehicles.
Hollinshead said crash reports for the highway are generated quarterly, so officials hope to make a year-to-year comparison by October whether the reduction in load limit restrictions results in any more traffic accidents.
“When you unsharpen corners and you widen roads, it has to have a positive safety impact,” he said.
He added that wear and tear to the pavement is not expected to be that much worse.
“This has been debated quite a bit,” Hollinshead said. “What the research shows, if you have distributed the weight evenly between the axles, there is less impact to the road. You don’t have the same impact as a concentrated weight in one area.”