Most Montanans have heard by now about proposals to ship oversize loads through Montana to support our state’s energy needs. However it’s been difficult to sort out the facts about those shipments from media accounts. For instance, at a forum sponsored by a local environmental group recently, several residents painted a picture of gloom and doom should the shipments be allowed. Yet, earlier this month in neighboring Idaho, an independent administrative hearing confirmed that the shipments are safe and the planning process used by the state of Idaho to review the shipments was thorough — ensuring the shipments would not harm the environment, roads or people. With these conclusions so different, I’d say it’s time we took an honest look at just the facts.
As the former Enforcement Bureau Chief at the Motor Carriers Division of the Montana Department of Transportation, I am very familiar with safety issues at hand with trucking projects on our roads, and spent my career evaluating just the facts. No one takes highway safety more seriously than the dedicated employees at the Montana Department of Transportation. So let me outline the intricate precautions that go into the oversized shipments.
In the first place, these shipments are technically no different than the many other oversize loads that regularly travel on our highways. The proposed shipments must abide by all state requirements for overweight and oversize loads, and thorough testing and engineering work had to be done to demonstrate the planned route can accommodate loads of this weight and size.
What is different in the preparation for these shipments is that state agencies and the shippers themselves have gone above and beyond to protect public safety and minimize the impact of the shipments on area residents, leaving our roads better than they were before.
The roughly 200 loads will be transported between midnight and 6 a.m., when local traffic or tourism will see little, if any, disruption. Each load will be escorted by law enforcement personnel, with the most experienced drivers in the world at the wheel. None of the loads will contain any hazardous or dangerous substances. In addition, the project has involved Montana state officials’ intricate planning for two years.
These are the types of objective facts that were neglected at the recent forum held by Friends of 2 Rivers. That event instead relied on conjecture and unsubstantiated criticisms by former MDT lawyer Bob Gentry. I respect Mr. Gentry’s service, but the facts are he lacks the technical credentials to evaluate the complex logistical and safety planning procedure the department used to evaluate these permits. As a former enforcement officer, and as bureau chief, it was in part my responsibility to address safety within the department, and I can rest easy knowing the shipments received the department’s full review.
The reality is that Montana will see $67 million in new private-sector investment, as well as job creation and increased tax revenue. We’ll also benefit from new highway turnoffs — a public infrastructure upgrade that benefits everyone who uses our highways at no expense to taxpayers.
Montana businesses and working citizens need to know that access to our roads is governed by objective rules, based on “just the facts.” Companies that obey the rules should have every right to use the roads, just like everyone else. That’s why our own Gov. Brian Schweitzer has voiced his support for these shipments, and that’s why I’ve put my name behind them.
It’s time to stop the delays and get back to work.
Mark Moberley is the former Motor Carrier Services Division Enforcement Bureau Chief at the Montana Department of Transportation.