TWIN FALLS • Southern Idaho highways soon should see oversized loads of massive oil refinery equipment being sent to the tar sands project in western Canada.
One megaload weighing nearly 1 million pounds will pass north of the Magic Valley along U.S. 93 on its way to Lost Trail Pass, elevation 7,014 feet, and into southwestern Montana next week.
The load could begin making its way from the Port of Umatilla in Oregon this weekend before crossing the Snake River and into southwest Idaho.
Oregon highway officials already have issued a travel advisory for the shipment.
Idaho engineers are analyzing the route and potential effects on infrastructure and public safety.
“Before they enter Idaho, they will have to have their travel plan all approved and their permits in place,” said Nathan Jerke, spokesman for the Idaho Transportation Department in Shoshone.
“We’re in the process of doing bridge analysis for the shipment,” said department spokesman Adam Rush. “We expect to have all of that wrapped up next week.”
The new pathway has been proposed by Oregon-based trucking company Omega Morgan, which moved one megaload across U.S. 12 earlier this year en route to the oil sands project in Alberta, Canada.
A federal judge blocked a second load, ruling in favor of the Nez Perce Tribe and environmentalists who opposed having megaloads move through tribal lands and through a federally protected wild and scenic river corridor.
Like the first shipments, the freight proposed to move through Oregon and southern Idaho includes more components of a water purification system essential to the tar sands project.
This time, however, General Electric Co. and Omega Morgan have mapped a route that will take more time in hopes of drawing little or no opposition.
The load expected to begin its journey Sunday is 22 feet wide, 18 feet tall, 376 feet long and weighs 901,000 pounds, dimensions that make it longer than the Omega Morgan shipment that chugged across northern Idaho and into Montana in August, Rush said.
The shipment is to leave the Port of Umatilla Sunday night and head southeast, moving only at night and pulling over every 5 to 7 miles to accommodate traffic, said Holly Zander, spokeswoman for Omega Morgan.
The load is expected to arrive in Homedale, Idaho, next week and begin the Idaho leg of its journey after Thanksgiving, Zander said.
Idaho highway officials are studying a map that takes the load across the desert southwest of Boise.
Jerke said he has been told the load will go through Murphy, Grand View and Bruneau to Hammett, then will take Interstate 84 west to Mountain Home. From Mountain Home, it will move along U.S. 20 through Fairfield, Picabo, Carey and Arco, then through Mud Lake, connecting with U.S. 93 at Salmon. Then it will travel the Lewis and Clark Trail into Montana.
Two more loads are expected to travel the same route next month, Zander said.
Transportation officials in Montana say they have not yet received a complete application from Omega Morgan detailing a proposed route.
“For us, it’s business as usual,” Jerke said, except for the length of the load. Steerable axles keep it on the road.
“The biggest concern is power lines,” he said. “But there is enough slack in lines to pull them up and out of the way.
“I’ve never seen a load this long. The weight is spread out, so there is no risk to bridges.”